Emotions 201: Just the Facts, Ma’am

In An Alternative to the Emotional Band-Aid I introduced an awareness technique that is useful for processing emotions.  This is a follow-up to that post.  One of the steps in the process is validating your emotion.  I am a firm believer in the concept that our emotions never lie to us.  They simply let us know our reaction to our thoughts.  When we question the validity of an emotion, it would be helpful to question our thoughts.  Our thoughts are where we run into trouble.  Think about this for a moment.  I can stand here and tell myself horrible things are happening to my children.  I can actually get myself to panic and even cry.  Actors do this frequently to create authentic tears.  The tears may be real but the thoughts are not.  This is called creating a story or catastrophizing, making things much worse than they really are.

To help us in our quest for emotional health, it is imperative that we look at the thoughts behind our emotion: are they real, based in fact?  Imagine standing before a judge in a court of law, would the evidence for your emotion be admissible or thrown out?  Here is an example: Let’s say your boyfriend just broke up with you.  You are heartbroken by the loss of the relationship.  As you are crying about the break-up, you start to imagine yourself alone for the rest of your life and you go into an emotional spiral.  What is true and what is the story? The truth is that you are heartbroken by the loss of the relationship (I’m assuming it was a real relationship and it meant something to you).  The story is you will be alone for the rest of your life.  How do you know that?  Can you look into the future?  I don’t believe we have the ability to know for certain what is going to happen to us.  I don’t think a psychic can even do that with 100% accuracy.

The facts are sad enough sometimes.  The last thing we need to do to ourselves is add to the intensity with some created story.  As you go about your day, notice your emotions and the thoughts behind them.  Are you creating stories?  Separate the facts from fiction; as Joe Friday on Dragnet would say, “Just the facts ma’am [or sir!].”  Allow yourself to feel the emotions tied to facts and let go of the things that are not. 

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