Deconstructing Self – Emotion

This is the third part of a three-part series on Self. The three parts of Self are identity, power, and emotion. Today, we explore emotions. 

What is emotion?

Emotion is a state of mind. Because emotion is a state of mind, does that mean we can control it? Change it? Do we have complete power over our emotions? That’s up for debate.

What we can control, is not necessarily how we feel, but how we react. There is a large body of literature in Cognitive Therapy and Positive Psychology that suggests we can, eventually, control our emotions. 

When thinking about Self, how do our emotions build us up or tear us down? Our emotions define us. Simultaneously, we make our emotions. This paradox often leads us to believe that we can’t control our emotions, which creates helplessness, which leads to an inability to control that emotion. The cycle can be disastrous, but we can break it. 

Breaking the cycle

The cycle of emotions is nothing to sneeze at. Balancing what we feel is in our control with how we respond is challenging. Many suggest that we can control our emotions by faking it. This strategy eventually leads to an internal change in emotions. But, do we need to change our emotions?

The simple answer is probably. We’ve realized that cultivating emotional intelligence in children increases their long-term success. The problem is that we taught an entire generation of children to have low emotional intelligence (through things like ruthless competition), which is why our emotions need to change. And we can turn to positive psychology. 

Positive psychology is powerful and popular. Many practitioners use positive psychology to treat their clients. But danger lurks. First, we are already extremely optimistic beings. Adding more positivity can result in unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations can increase the negative cycle of emotions. 

Second, we are already very biased. Adding positivity can lead to further cognitive biases. Third, positive psychology can lead to overconfidence and the illusion of control. As we all know, we can’t predict the future, and if we move forward, always positive, our thoughts could lead us to believe that nothing bad will ever happen. Even though it will. No matter what. 

So, how do we break the emotional cycle? While positive psychology has many merits, including helping someone who has depression, anxiety, or stress break out of a funk, what we often lack is mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is king

Mindfulness does exist within positive psychology practice, but it is not the sole purpose. I’ll define mindfulness as simply knowing what you’re thinking, and why. Being mindful is trending now, and I believe that the masses do offer a solid foundation for mindfulness, but we rarely dig deep enough to understand why mindfulness is so crucial to understanding the emotional self. 

Unsurprisingly, many use mindfulness incorrectly. It’s the latest “Buddhist buzzword,” coming after karma and will go back into oblivion and be replaced by something else in the next few years. But there is a deep and profound meaning to mindfulness that will help us better understand our emotional Self. 

At its core, mindfulness encompasses the idea that we must experience what we are doing, in that moment, to its fullest. We can mindfully eat an orange, experience the juices as we bite down, smell the sweet aroma of the orange, and feel the texture of the fruit on our hand. We can mindfully watch our dog run down the beach, taking in the smell and taste of sea salt, the heat of the sun’s rays, and the joy of watching our pet play. 

Mindfulness is not only sitting still, meditating. Mindfulness is experiencing what we do, with focus. For our emotions, mindfulness enables us to embrace what we are feeling in each moment. We can better understand what are our emotions are, how we are reacting, and when we pay attention, decide how to control them. 

When we become mindful of our emotions, we unleash the power to control them. With this power, emotional power, we can better understand our Self. Because we are emotionally driven, mindfulness helps us better understand our “why.”

Next Steps

Now that we have a better understanding of our emotions, of our why, we can better take on conflict. In the coming weeks, I will explore when to say no, in conflict, and how to understand the nonverbal.