In a previous post we looked at what happens when we try to problem solve
our emotions. It tends not to be very effective. So when problem solving our emotions fails, we often try to force ourselves to feel a certain way. We fight our emotions and try to control them to make ourselves feel the way we want to feel.
But fighting our emotions only makes them stronger. Next time you’re feeling anxious, try to force yourself to calm down and tell yourself you shouldn’t be so scared and see if that helps. It will likely just lead you to feel more anxious, and experience additional unpleasant emotions such as anger and frustration as well.
Next time you feel sad, tell yourself you are being stupid, that you need to cheer up, that you should be happy, don’t be so weak. Again, trying to control your emotions will only make them stronger.
In the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
-based Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety
, John Forsyth and Georg Eifert explain why controlling our emotions doesn’t work.
You may wonder why control can work so well with the demands and strains of the world and yet be so ineffective with anxiety and other forms of emotional pain. The answer is that anxiety differs in important ways from other problems in life that can be controlled quite effectively.
Situations that are controllable tend to involve objects or situations in the world outside your skin. Changing things in the world around you often is possible and works well so it only makes sense to want to apply it to manage emotional pain. The problem is that what works well in the external world just doesn’t work well when applied to things going on inside you.
You may try to deal with your thoughts and feelings in the same way you deal with clothes you don’t like. Now look at your experience to see what happens when you do that. Can you give away or throw out your unpleasant thoughts and feelings? Has that ever worked for you? Can you replace an old painful memory or a reminder of your past with a new one? Have you ever been able to do that?
The take-home message here is that you can’t win a fight against yourself. And, as much as you may want to throw out your painful emotions, there’s simply no way to take them in your hands and out of the room.
So if problem-solving our emotions doesn’t work, and we can’t control our emotions, what can we do when faced with strong, unpleasant emotions? Counselling and therapy can help you learn how to relate to your emotions in more effective ways, and some of the ways I work with clients in therapy to help them deal with emotions will be topics of future blog posts.
In the next post
, we look why trying to suppress our emotions, or avoid them altogether also doesn’t work.
I’m a Toronto therapist specializing in helping people overcome depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
For more information about how I can help you learn to deal with your emotions, or to make an appointment for counselling or therapy in Toronto, please call me at 416-516-6024 or email email@example.com.