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15 Myths About ‘Heightened Emotions’ and How DBT Helps Challenge Them

For those of us who live with “heightened emotions,” we often think we are wrong for feeling the way we do. This thought can come from years of invalidation by those around us. It can also come from inside our own mind. Our brains have a way of lying to us.

While completing dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), I came across a worksheet that really made me challenge the beliefs I had about my emotions (Emotion Regulation Worksheet 3 from the book “DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition”). The creator of DBT, Marsha M. Linehan, presents myths about our emotions and instructs the reader to challenge them.

Here are some of my challenges to the myths:

Myth 1. “There is a right way to feel in every situation.”

Challenge: Your emotions are your own and no one can tell you how to feel. There is no right or wrong. Whatever you feel is valid. We cannot judge our emotions, only our actions.

Myth 2. “Being emotional means being out of control.”

Challenge: It is possible to be emotional and be in control. Our emotions can be strong. They can even be overwhelming at times and we can still act skillfully to control our actions.

Myth 3. “All painful emotions are a result of a bad attitude.”

Challenge: Even with a positive attitude, you can experience painful emotions. Positivity does not mean rejecting negative emotions. It is alright to accept them for what they are since every emotion has a purpose. It is trying to send a message, even if you can’t immediately figure out what it is.

Myth 4. “If others don’t approve of my feelings, I obviously shouldn’t feel the way I do.”

Challenge: Emotions are valid and other people’s approval does not dictate their validity. There is no wrong way to feel. Feelings and emotions just are. Not everyone will react emotionally the same as someone else.

Myth 5. “Letting others know that I am feeling bad is a weakness.”

Challenge: It is actually a strength to let others know how we are feeling. Being able to communicate your emotions means you have a deeper understanding of them. Having the strength to share your negative feelings could open up a dialog to improve those emotions.

Myth 6. “Painful emotions are not important and should be ignored.”

Challenge: Emotions have a purpose and on the simplest level, they are trying to communicate something to you. These messages should be used to guide us. Even our painful emotions help shape who we are and how we act.

Myth 7. “Creativity requires intense, out-of-control emotions.”

Challenge: It is possible to have emotion-driven creativity without being out-of-control. Creativity can also come from a place of rational mind. Creativity can be sparked by seeing the details of the situation and using your thoughts to guide you.

Myth 8. “It is inauthentic to try to change my emotions.”

Challenge: By their very nature, emotions evolve from moment to moment. We do not need to hold onto an emotion longer than the moment in which it exists. By regulating our emotions, we can use them to build a life worth living.

Myth 9. “Acting on your emotions is the mark of a truly free individual.”

Challenge: Our actions should be affected by more than just our emotions. Our feelings are just one interpretation of a situation. There are also facts. When we combine our rational mind and our emotional mind we can find wise mind. A truly free individual makes decisions from their wise mind without seeking validation from others.

Myth 10. “My emotions are who I am.”

Challenge: There is more to me than just my emotions. It’s how I react to my emotions that says the most about my character.

Myth 11. “My emotions are why people love me.”

Challenge: People’s feelings toward me are based on who I am as a whole. While the emotions are a part of it, my goals, values and actions are reasons people love me.

Myth 12. “Some emotions are ‘stupid.’”

Challenge: Every emotion has a purpose. We should not judge our emotions and instead ask them what they are trying to tell us.

Myth 13. “Extreme emotions get you a lot further than trying to regulate your emotions.”

Challenge: Emotions have their value but acting on them is not always effective. Regulating our emotions and listening to our wise mind helps us get further in life and closer to our goals.

Myth 14. “Emotional truth is what counts, not factual truth.”

Challenge: Both emotions and facts are important. If you based your whole life on emotions, you would never do anything you didn’t like, even if it was the logical thing to do. You need to consult wise mind (a combination of rational and emotional mind) and that is what counts the most.

Myth 15. “Emotions should always be trusted.”

Challenge: While emotions are always valid, they aren’t always justified. For example, if the intensity or the urge the emotion evokes doesn’t fit the facts, you may want to question them. They can still be trying to tell you something but may not have all the information needed to be trusted.

Can you think of any myths that society or your mind has told you about your emotions? Take a moment and try to challenge these myths. Remember your emotions are valid but acting on them isn’t always justified. Try to use your wise mind and trust yourself when it comes to how you feel.

Photo by Nick Demou from Pexels