I suffer from depressive episodes from time to time. It’s a terrible thing that caused–and can still cause–selfishness, self-inflicted loneliness, unmindful actions, and awfully strong and uncontrollable feelings in my life. My episodes used to be extremely bad, but now bad episodes rarely appear.
You can’t stop bad emotions completely, and I don’t think it’s healthy (or realistic) to think that bad emotions would, or should, never come again. However, I think it’s important to remember that no matter how bad emotions may be, emotions are emotions; nothing more.
You Are Not Your Emotions
It’s easy, however, to feel otherwise. Language is a major reinforcing force that strengthens the personification of emotions: people who speak English tend to say statements like “I am an emotion,” or “She is an emotion,” or “We are an emotion.” I’m not entirely sure when people started describing emotions as themselves, but somehow or another personifying emotions became so normal that we describe ourselves as being angry, sad, happy, mad, or any other emotion around.
Personified Versus De-Personified Emotions
I’d like you to imagine an event that made you feel an emotion so strongly. It could be something positive like extreme joy, or something negative like powerful anger. Once you’ve chosen your emotion, say this while keeping the emotion in mind:
I am this emotion. I am this emotion right now.
Take a breath and try to recreate what it feels like to be in that state, what your body physically feels like when embodying that emotion, and what thoughts would run through your mind. Explore what it’s like to be an emotion for as long or as short as you’d like. Once you finish, imagine a different strong emotion. Once you’ve chosen your emotion, say this while keeping the emotion in mind:
I feel this emotion. I feel this emotion right now.
Again, take a breath and repeat what you did, but now try to notice what’s different this time around. I hope that you feel it. It’s subtle, but a simple change in words should feel profound: you feel emotions either way, but you don’t feel attached and controlled when you stop yourself from becoming the emotion.
Emotions Have No True Control Over You
You may still want to do things when really happy, or really angry, even when you depersonalize your emotions. However, by depersonalizing emotions, by accepting that they exist but they are not you nor do they control you, you gain the freedom to choose what your actions are, regardless of what you are feeling. You may no longer feel the uncontrollable need to scream, yell, or say hurtful things you can’t take back when you’re angry. You may no longer feel the uncontrollable need to keep an increasingly pleasurable moment from lasting beyond its “scheduled” time. No matter what you’re feeling, you are free to choose how you want to act. It’s a little step that moves you closer to a little more freedom in your everyday life.