Emotions are funny things.
Sometimes it seems as if emotions have a life of their own. They sometimes nourish us, and refresh our hearts. And sometimes they act as our masters and have enslaved us to them.
Some emotions are generated purely by the brain. People suffering from anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and major depressive episodes are well aware of this. Anxiety can cause feelings of dread, inner turmoil, fear of the future, and great worry. Depression is a pervasive and persistent sadness or low mood, low self-esteem, loss of interest or pleasure in enjoyable activities. It is disabling to people. It impacts one’s sleeping, eating, work, school work, mood – everything. At times it seems that our brains are not our friends. These neurologically based medical conditions need to be addressed by a treatment team including medical doctors and professional therapists.
Of course there are other causes or sources of emotions. There can be particular trigger events in the world around us that can cause us to respond with certain emotions. But what emotions will we respond with? Why is it that 10 people facing the same “trigger event” might respond with 10 different emotions?
Is there something deeper at the root of our emotions?
Furthermore, it sometimes seems as if our emotions demand some kind of resolution – as if our emotions demand that we do something right now to make us feel better. Why is it that at 9:30 at night I can be found standing in front of an open refrigerator door looking inside for something that is not there? Is it because I have ended my day with a small amount of stress or anxiety that is demanding that I find some carbohydrates to placate it, or make the stress feel better and go away? Probably. This is why my wife has placed a small sign in my refrigerator door that says, “IT IS NOT IN HERE.”
Truly, the solutions for my end of the day stresses and anxieties are not to be found in the refrigerator. And yet that is where my feet go at the end of the day. Why? Because these subtle emotions that I am experiencing are demanding a release, or resolution – now.
Many of our behaviors, and many of the choices that we make throughout the day, and many of the words that we speak throughout the day, are based on a need to resolve the emotions that we are feeling. Some of these conversations are good, some of them are not very good at all. Often we regret that we have said to another person when we are feeling frustrated, insecure, or anxious. And yet somehow, what it is that we said, and the way that we said it, seemed important at the time for us to resolve the emotions that we were feeling.
Emotions that we feel are attached to “beliefs” that we hold about ourselves, about other people, about the nature of the world around us, and about the nature of the person of God. Our beliefs are powerful. They are the engine generating particular emotions, and when certain trigger events happen we respond primarily out of our beliefs about ourselves, or about that situation, or about the person standing in front of us.
Let me give you an example. If a person holds the belief deep inside of themselves that they “cannot do anything right,” then if they are ever asked, “Why are you doing this that way?” they will always respond out of there wounded beliefs and insecurities. They will tend to overreact to this question, even if this question was very innocent.
Beliefs are very powerful.
And part of the problem about our beliefs is that some of them are based on lies that we have believed. And believes that we hold to that are based on lies that others have told us about ourselves are just as powerful as beliefs based upon the truth.
Abandoned, adopted, abused, and forgotten as a child, I met Alan as a client about two years ago. During our time together I asked him about these beliefs that on some days drove him into anxiety, and at other times acted like chains around him limiting him in his life. He made a pretty good list of some of these beliefs, including:
“I can’t do anything right,” “nobody loves me because I am not lovable,” “I am useless,” “I cannot trust people,” “I am a burden to others,” and “no one cares whether I live or die.”
This is the language of rejection, abandonment, and abuse. Many people carry these beliefs inside of them. And these beliefs limit every choice that they make, every job interview that they go on or avoid, and how they view what they deserve or don’t deserve in life. And yet these beliefs are based on lies. Lies that frustrated parents say, lies some school teacher mutters, lies that schoolchildren say. It doesn’t matter who says it, they are just lies.
Our “beliefs based upon lies” need to be examined, and replaced by the truth. When Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” this is what he was talking about. We have to believe the truth – about ourselves, about other people, about the world around us, and about God. And once we do, the chains and limitations that come from believing lies will dissolve away. We can be people of the truth, and we can truly have peace in our lives. We can live out our days without overreacting to either questions or other trigger events in our lives. “Beliefs based on Truth” are very energizing, encouraging, and can transform our lives.
May you enjoy this journey of true transformation beginning even today.
Dr. Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Bear Valley Springs, CA who consults with clients to help them to overcome ADHD, find relief for depression or anxiety, and solve other problems in life. He is the Editor ofthe ADHD Information Library online. His weekly radio program “The Living Room” is heard Sunday evenings at 7:00pm on KAXL 88.3 “Life FM.” Visit his website athttp://DouglasCowan.me to learn more, or call (661) 972-5953.