Get a Grip: How to understand and control your emotions

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla -- How we think is how we feel.

People often ask me where emotions come from, so we’re going to talk about how emotions are created. It’s common to think that emotions simply “happen.” But our emotions run hot and cold due to how we think, not by outside forces or other people.

To start with it is important to have an understanding of the basic teaching of rational theory. This teaching is not new. Much of its origin can be traced back to Greek and Roman philosophers, such as Epicurus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

Names that are more familiar come from ancient Asian philosophers such as Confucius, Gautama, Buddha, and Lao-Tsu. In recent years we see the evidence in the work of notable psychologists Alfred Adler, and particularly the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy,  Dr. Albert Ellis.

There are others who had a hand in the teachings, but more importantly, are the basic ideas of rational theory valid?

The basic assumption is that we as humans are mainly responsible for how we think, feel, and behave is one of the cornerstones to change. It is logical to say that if you perceive your life to be unhappy, or you find yourself most often in a state of anxiety, anger, depression, or “stressed-out,” then change is necessary in order to alleviate these feelings. It is not the events in our lives which “cause” us to feel certain ways, such as depressed, anxious, guilty, or angry, but much more importantly it is how we think about these events, which drive all human emotions. Subsequently, the behavior that follows is an extension of these emotions and both are directly related to how you think.

The basic assumption is that we as humans are mainly responsible for how we think, feel, and behave is one of the cornerstones to change. It is logical to say that if you perceive your life to be unhappy, or you find yourself most often in a state of anxiety, anger, depression, or “stressed-out,” then change is necessary in order to alleviate these feelings. It is not the events in our lives which “cause” us to feel certain ways, such as depressed, anxious, guilty, or angry, but much more importantly it is how we think about these events, which drive all human emotions. Subsequently, the behavior that follows is an extension of these emotions and both are directly related to how you think. 

So if you want to change how you feel, and adopt new behaviors, then it is important for you to listen in to your defeating self-talk. Dispute it, challenge it, and replace it with new ideas, which promote health and happiness. The idea that you are mainly responsible for how you think, feel, and behave can be validated with a simple example.

The one I often use is this: Let’s say we are at a party hanging out with old and new friends and I decide to tell a joke. This joke is risqué’ and it is a mixed crowd. One joke, we will call it the Event. Is it reasonable to suggest that we are going to get multiple reactions, feelings from the group? Probably so! One joke, many reactions. If it were true that events are responsible for how we feel, then it would follow that each person would feel the same. But they don’t. How come? The reason is each person thinks differently about the joke.

Thoughts are based upon genetics: “Hard wiring,” as well as your learning history (direct teaching and experiential learning “your life experiences,”) and how you feel at that time.

All this is the basis of your thinking and largely responsible for how you react to the joke. One joke, multiple reactions. The joke does not have the power to create human emotions. Words cannot come out of my mouth, float through the air, bounce off the walls, jump into your body, and create an emotional reaction! That is magical thinking and does not have a basis in reality.

Does the joke have an influence? Certainly, but it does not cause! The same goes for anything that is said or done.

Your friend/mate/spouse does not have the power to make you feel angry or guilty with the simple use of their words; the driver who just cut you off does not have the ability to make you mad: you are in control of all of this yourself.

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Shane Porter, a licensed mental health counselor who has been in private practice since 1998, is president of the Counseling Center of New Smyrna Beach. His community column, "Get Psyched," is exclusively carried by Headline Surfer®.