DBT Group: Week One – Part II – Myths About Emotions

Module: Emotion Regulation

Homework Take-Up:
Emotion Regulation Handout 4A – Myths About Emotions

I checked off a number of myths on the Handout, and then wrote statements that would challenge them. I wasn’t too surprised at most of what I had checked off but there were a few that really resonated with me, so they were the ones I discussed in group, and will explore here.

Here’s a recap of some of the Emotion Myths on the Handout, and were ones I checked off:
1. There is a right way to feel in every situation.
2. Letting others know how I feel is a sign of weakness.
3. Being emotional is bad.
4. I need approval to feel a certain way.
5. If I feel it, it must be fact.
6. I am not capable to decide how I should feel.
7. My emotions are who I am.

Of the 21 Emotion Myths listed on the Handout, I checked off 11 of them. The ones that resonated with me the most were, #1, #4, #5, #6, and #7.

Now, I have to question what exactly this will accomplish, challenging emotion myths? I mean I don’t know about other people but these so-called myths are hard-wired into me. I have had it repeatedly proven to me that these are in fact, truths, not myths. I challenge this challenge. But in the interest of giving this a fair shake, I’ll give it a shot.

Starting with…
Myth #1: “There is a right way to feel in a situation.”
Challenge: There is no right or wrong way to feel in any situation.

I believed, scratch that, I believe that I am incapable of deciding how I should feel, and that I have no say or sway in how I feel. If someone even gives me a hint that what I am feeling is “wrong” or “unjustified”, and it can be as small as a comment or a gesture, or lack thereof, then I will immediately feel ashamed and stupid for feeling whatever I had felt, and I would take whatever action was necessary, and as quickly as possible, to suppress or change the emotion to whatever was deemed, or “approved” of as more appropriate.

If I entertain this for a moment. Is that true? Is there a “right way” to feel in a situation? Maybe. I think it would depend on the situation and the feeling, I suppose. Although, to continue this, playing devil’s advocate, and consider that this myth is in fact a myth, then I would have to ask, what does the “right way” to feel about an emotion even look like? We feel what we feel. I feel what I feel.

Is it fair, or accurate, to label our emotions as “right” or “wrong”? I suppose that some emotions are expected or justified in certain situations, i.e. you feel sad when you suffer the loss of a loved one, the emotion is certainly justified, but does that make the emotion “right”? Or is it just simply how you feel? What if you don’t feel sad? What if you feel angry, or guilty, or nothing at all? Does that mean that whatever you’re feeling is “wrong”? I think that labelling an emotion as “right” or “wrong” is unfair and inaccurate. You feel whatever you feel. I feel whatever I feel. I may feel the same as what you feel, I may not.

However each of us came to feel what we feel in any given situation is based on multiple, complex, and different factors that are unique to each of us. Our lives and our experiences in life so far, shape our emotions. No matter what we are feeling in any situation, that is simply what we feel, period. I can’t help how I feel any more than anyone else can. Believe me, I’ve tried. So by that logic, it looks like Myth #1 has been successfully challenged.

That went well, okay, onto the next myth…

Myth #4: I need approval to feel a certain way.
Challenge: No one can approve or disapprove of how I feel. I feel whatever I feel, and that is not subject to anyone’s approval, at any time, for any reason.

I struggle with this myth quite a bit actually, and was even surprised that I checked it off. I have been seeking or awaiting approval for so long when it come to my emotions that I don’t even realize I do it. I believe in this myth with such ferocity that to this day I still believe that I am not “allowed” to feel anything without “permission”. I can’t tell you who exactly holds the authority to dole out this “permission” to me, but I can tell you where and from whom I first learned this, and how it was repeatedly reinforced over so many years.

My mom was a big fan of quashing emotions. I learned very young that “bad” emotions, like sadness or anger, were to be suppressed at all costs. I learned that a person had to “earn” the right to feel certain emotions. What the criteria is to have “earned” the right to feel your own emotions I have no idea what they are. But there are requirements, that much I know. And I did not meet the criteria.

Like striking a fly with a rolled up newspaper, my mom would swiftly flatten most of my emotions, especially the “bad” ones, and especially in front of other people. In any given situation, when it came to my emotions I would often feel very much like that flattened fly on the wall with their insides all over the place. I don’t know if she did this because it’s how her parents how dealt with her emotions, and she in turn dealt with me the same way, or maybe it was by her own accord that she just didn’t have a clue to how to handle her own emotions, so when mine bubbled up, she would panic, strike, and flatten them. Who knows?

I just know she would often ask me, “what did I have to be angry/sad/upset/etc about?”, or she would tell me that she would give me something to be angry/sad/upset/etc about. This wasn’t asked or offered because she was curious or concerned as to why I was feeling what I was, or because she wanted to help me work through the emotion. And it certainly wasn’t to take care or help me feel better. No, this was more a dismissal, and total avoidance on her part to deal with me and my emotion du jour. Like “who was I to feel?” There was no valid reason, according to her, for me to feel whatever I was feeling. I had not sought permission. The message I took from this was, a) whatever I was feeling, regardless of the situation, was wrong, and b) whatever I was feeling I had not earned the right, and therefore I wasn’t entitled to feel it. Ergo, I need permission.

This would sometimes be reinforced by my brother when he would say, “why are you getting so upset?”, or “why do you let it bother you?”. This was again later reinforced by my first (ex)-boyfriend who would similarly tell me, directly, indirectly, and at times violently, that I was not entitled to feel what I was feel. When I was to feel something, he would let me know.

The message over and over again was that all my emotions were to be approved, and only then was I allowed to openly feel them.

Sadly, to this day, like I said, I await approval to proceed with my emotions. So this is myth is challenged but it is a work in progress to put into action. I will need some time before I don’t look to others to approve my emotions.

The next myth is very closely connected to Myth #4.

Myth #6: Other people are the best judges of what I should feel.
Challenge: No one has the power, authority, or right to tell me how I should or shouldn’t feel. Nor does anyone have the ability to know exactly how I am feeling until I tell them.

Not only do I believe that I need approval of my emotions but I also believe I need direction too. According to my mother, to a lesser extent, my brother, and then my first (ex)-boyfriend, I am not capable to decide how I feel about something, as if any of us are given a choice. Apparently I am not qualified. I am expected to wait, like a good, obedient child, to be told what to feel, how to feel, and when to feel it, and even for how long I should feel it.

This is where a great amount of my internal conflict comes from because whatever the prompting event is my emotions just respond (how dare they?), whether they have anyone’s “approval” or not. And more often than not they are very different than what certain others would have decided for me, and directed me to feel. This is so confusing for me. What do I do? Who do I believe? Who do I listen to? Me or them? Do others know what’s best for me regarding my emotions? Are they a better judge of how I should feel about something?

Well, you know what? Screw that.

Who the hell is anyone to tell me what I should feel and when? I feel whatever I feel whether anyone, including myself, likes it or not. I don’t need anyone’s approval or permission. I don’t need anyone’s direction. Screw that for sure.

I’ve lived too long thinking, believing, that I had no say regarding my emotions. That I had to wait and be directed and approved. Well, guess what, I do have a say. In fact, I have the only say. I have the capability to decide on my emotions. It’s up to me to decide if what I’m feeling is justified or not, and whether or not I should do something about it, or not. No one else. Just me. My emotions, my say, my choice.

Damn. I wish I had realized this sooner.

The last myth I wanted to explore, mostly because I’m not totally sure it is a myth.

Myth #5: If I feel it, then it must be fact.
Challenge: Emotions are not fact. They are responses to prompting events, and are usually coloured by our own assumptions, interpretations, beliefs, and judgements.

It’s hard for me to accept that my emotions are not fact. I feel them so intensely, how can they not be fact? They are so ingrained and fierce. And when I can feel it in my body, and I it becomes something tangible like tears, or the urge to hit something, how can you tell me that’s not facts?

I think maybe a better way for me to understand this is to try and consider how they are facts. Can I prove it? If an emotion is fact, then it is indisputable. A fact is a reality; it is a certainty. Now even though our emotions are our own reality, they aren’t actual reality, and they aren’t certainties. Emotions are so complex and they are unique to our experiences. Even if I share the same emotion as someone else, we rarely come to this emotion by the same path. And when it comes to how we cope or manage the emotion is often different than how another might process it. There are similarities and some overlap but that doesn’t make it a fact.

Interesting. I had not considered it this way before. Well, I’ll be damned. And myth looks to be busted.

Alright then DBT…emotion myths challenged. Nicely done.

Lesson Taught: Second Half of Group:
For the second half of the group, we reviewed again Emotion Regulation Handout 6 – Ways to Describe Emotions (10 pgs)

Handout 6 is 10 pages long covering 10 main emotions.
The emotions are:
– Anger
– Shame
– Happiness
– Love
– Guilt
– Sadness
– Fear
– Envy
– Jealousy
– Disgust

It’s pretty extensive coverage, with each emotion taking up its own page. Details of the pages will follow in the next post.

And the Handouts were to be used to do Worksheet 4A for homework.

Handouts Covered for Homework:
Emotion Regulation Handout 4A – Myths About Emotions

Handouts Covered for Next Lesson:
Emotion Regulation Handout 6 – Ways to Describe Emotions (10 pgs)

Homework Assigned:
Emotion Regulation Handout 6 – Ways to Describe Emotions (10 pgs) (review)
Emotion Regulation Worksheet 4A – Observing and Describing Emotions

Skills, Handouts, and Worksheets from DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linehan.


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