Your emotions aren’t the problem
As I was writing my 2020 book, Embracing Anxiety: How to Access the Genius of This Vital Emotion I thought a lot about two emotional mistakes that almost everyone makes:
- We blame emotions for causing problems, when in fact, emotions arise to help us deal with problems
- We blame emotions for people’s lack of emotional skills
I call these the emotional attribution mistakes, and they’re everywhere!
What is an attribution mistake?
Basically, it’s a mistake in identifying cause and effect.
Here’s a true attribution: It’s raining because there’s a rainstorm overhead right now.
Here’s a mistaken attribution: It’s raining because I have terrible luck and the world is out to get me.
Your luck has nothing to do with the weather, even though it can feel that way sometimes. Attribution mistakes can feel true, but because they’re wrong, they can lead you down some very unhelpful paths.
For instance, if you attribute the weather to your luck, you may wish for luck instead of checking the weather report. Your mistaken attribution would lead you in the wrong direction and waste your time (and you’d get caught in the rain without an umbrella). You’d also suffer about the weather for no good reason.
Understanding cause and effect is important, because it can help us understand the world clearly so that we can act effectively.
Mistakes in emotional attribution
1. Blaming emotions when problems occur
For many centuries, we were taught that emotions were problems; emotions were wrongly thought to be irrational, untrustworthy, unspiritual, or unhelpful. We’ve been taught many myths, such as The Myth of Negative Emotions, and we’ve mostly been chased away from our emotions.
Today, we know more, and we understand that emotions are vital aspects of our ability to think, feel, understand the world, and act appropriately. Emotions help us with everything we do, and each emotion brings us a unique set of gifts, skills, and genius.
But our centuries of terrible emotional education sort of haunt us, and we continue to make two big emotional attribution mistakes.
First, whenever there’s trouble, we notice that there are always emotions present. The bigger the trouble, the more emotions there are!
If we don’t understand that emotions come to help us, we might blame the emotions for the trouble. That’s a huge attribution mistake.
This mistake makes people distrust their emotions and even hate them. But emotions are not the problem and they never were.
Your emotions identify the problem, and they bring you the intelligence, energy, and skills you need to deal with the problem!
When you can learn the language of your emotions and learn to befriend them, you can change your life (and you can change the world).
Your emotions are not the problem; they address the problem.
2. Blaming the emotions for people’s lack of emotional skills
When people think of emotions like anger or envy, they often think of worst-case scenarios: people exploding with their anger and hurting people, or people being consumed by envy and grabbing too much while everyone else gets nothing.
These are terrible behaviors, and it’s easy to understand why people would mistakenly see these two emotions as the culprits; however, anger and envy aren’t to blame.
All of your emotions bring you gifts and skills, and all of them are necessary. Anger and envy are powerful emotions that can help you accomplish amazing things, but you have to know how to work with the power they bring you.
Anger helps you set boundaries around what you value. How you set boundaries is where your emotional skills come in.
You can set boundaries well or badly; you can set them with cruelty and hurt people; you can set them with passivity and confuse people; or you can set them with strength and kindness.
Your anger is a tool that brings you specific skills. How you use the tool of your anger depends on you.
And envy helps you identify opportunities and keep yourself and others safe in the social world of money, possessions, and recognition. How you keep yourself and others safe is where your emotional skills come in.
You can identify opportunities and resources well or badly: You can focus everything on yourself and leave nothing for others; you can give away too much and reduce your own resources; or you can create equality and fairness for yourself and everyone.
Your envy is a tool; how you use the tool of your envy depends on you.
Your emotions are vital aspects of your intelligence, your social skills, and your ability to love, dream, and heal
Emotional attribution mistakes are understandable because we’ve been taught to distrust, suppress, and even hate our emotions. But we and our emotions can survive any kind of bad training, thank goodness.
Your emotions, all of them, contain gifts, skills, and genius. If you can welcome them, learn their language, and develop your emotional skills, you can access the emotional genius that has lived inside you your whole life long.