Myths about Emotions
There are some colloquial ideas out there about emotions and mental health that we tend to carry with us. I pick up on them all the time in therapy with clients. Try to recognize if you believe any of these…
1. Sadness and depression are the same thing:
Nope! Sadness and depression are different. We tend to use “depressed” these days as a word for “feeling really down because something bad happened.” However, there is an important difference between difficult life circumstances that result in sadness, and depression. Clinical criteria for depression includes various changes in behaviour and functioning, and consistent depressed mood all day, everyday, for an extended period of time. Sadness about aspects of life is healthy, normal, tends to come and go, and is often alleviated by crying or talking about it. This can be an important distinction for people who have been depressed before, as after a clinical depression, any sense of sadness can feel like a warning sign for depression.
2. If I let myself feel something, I’ll feel that way forever:
Nope! Your emotions will not last last forever. Emotions are varied and they also have a time limit. Even though it might feel like you’ll experience sadness, worry, uncertainty, despair (or any other unpleasant emotion that exists) I promise it will abate, or at least lessen in intensity over time. Identifying your feeling, talking about it with others, engaging in self-care and other coping activities can help to speed up this process.
3. I must. Be. Positive. All. The. Time.
Nope! You do not have to think positive and project positivity all the time. There seems to be a trend in distinguishing “negative” and “positive” people and emotions. Let’s clarify something: being “negative” is not the same as sharing and being vulnerable about harder (notice I didn’t say negative!) emotions. I hear a lot about “being negative and “negative people” in the self-help and social media world and I think those get equated (incorrectly) with people simply expressing feelings that are not considered “positive”. Contrary to popular opinion, sharing vulnerabilities and finding validation and support about the tougher side of life brings people together – not apart. And it’s not negative!
4. I have ultimate control over my mind and emotions and should be able to fix things myself:
Nope! I think the way we blame people for mental illness has a lot to do with the perceived sense of control we have over our brains. But brains, just like bodies, need help to get better. When our bodies are injured or unwell, we consult a team of healthcare specialists to help bring us back to health. Similarly, in our efforts to improve our mental health, we shouldn’t expect our brains to be able to go at it alone.
5. Anger is a bad emotion and I shouldn’t ever feel it.
Nope! You are allowed to feel and express your anger. The problem with anger is when we express it in ways and behaviours that harm others (I.e. physically, or in emotionally/psychologically abusive ways), not the emotion itself. Naming when you’re angry, and taking time to allow yourself to feel angry and have it pass is healthy. Anger even has a productive side and can be a useful emotion to facilitate change, establish boundaries, and learn about yourself.
This is undoubtedly only a partial list of the myths surrounding mental health and emotions that are out there. For help with emotional regulation and beliefs about emotions contact us here.