Today’s post is the fifth in a series that I call “The 10 Most Useful Facts about Emotions.” I wrote this for a forthcoming book about parenting. I was trying to find a way to help parents appreciate what I call the emotional hazards of parenting. So, the 10 most useful emotion facts are applied to parenting but they can be used to better understand the emotional hazards of any relationship.
Our actions lead to many consequences. Some are predictable and some are unpredictable.
When our behavior leads to consequences that are consistently positive, we tend to repeat it. When our behavior leads to consequences that are consistently negative, we’re less likely to repeat it.
Emotions are one consequence of our actions; they’re a byproduct of what we do and what we say, of where we go and who we meet. We like it when our actions and our words produce positive feelings such as joy, pride, surprise, or affection. But emotions are not very reliable. We can’t know when a feeling will show up or if that feeling will be positive.
Emotions are not so unpredictable as to be random, and we all have our favorite strategies for generating good feelings or minimizing bad feelings. The problem is that we sometimes forget that emotions are not under our complete control. We can start to believe that we can and should control our feelings.
Here’s a line I often hear from patients who don’t like what they’ve been feeling: “There’s no reason for me to feel that way.” They’re truly puzzled that a particular feeling arrives unannounced and uninvited. And they have plenty of reasons why that feeling shouldn’t be there.
Some folks search their whole lives for sure-fire ways to produce good feelings or quick and easy ways to escape bad feelings. They persist in the search even when the outcomes are fleeting and when the consequences of trying to escape are unhealthy.
Effectively managing emotions is less about predicting and stopping bad feelings; it’s about making room for the unpredictable nature of emotions and feeling what arrives.