Emotions Are Ideas

People ask: “What does it mean to take responsibility for your emotions?”

My answer: Learn to grasp, and accept, that feelings and thoughts are essentially the same thing. An emotion is part of your mind as much as your conscious thinking. An emotion is an idea, a thought or a premise that manifests in a certain way. Don’t be fooled by the fact that you’re in a different state of mind when you experience an emotion, as opposed to an idea. An idea is an idea, whether you’re happy, angry, confused, serene or unsettled at the time you experience it.

This sounds so simple, and to some quite obvious. But it has implications you would hardly believe.

Most of psychology rejects what I just wrote. The dominant schools of psychology assume that emotions come from one of three sources: Family/childhood, society, or biology. The family/childhood determinists assume that early in life your elders “made” you feel a certain way, and you still feel that way today — because you cannot help it. The society determinists assert that outside authorities — usually, government — determine your emotions. Typically, it’s the lack of a left-wing government that they blame for your feelings — feelings which you cannot help, brought on by poverty or social injustice. The biological determinists, the most prevalent today, assume that everything you feel is caused by brain chemistry. Ideas, thoughts and premises? They have nothing to do with it. It’s all “chemical imbalance.” It’s all the “illness of depression,’ a malady so widespread and so vaguely defined that it now applies to just about anything unpleasant that ever happens.

These three theories all have one thing in common: The ideology of determinism. These theories all deny the impact of one’s thinking and premises on emotions. Ironically, the theories themselves cannot escape the reality of implicit ideas, including — ultimately — philosophy. Philosophy sets the course for everything, including psychology. In other words, your emotions depend on deeper premises about the nature of reality (metaphysics), the means for knowing reality (epistemology), and the means by which one should live (ethics). Psychology ignores the impact of philosophy on psychology at its peril. You attain the “help” of a psychotherapist who ignores philosophy at your own peril. You can rest assured that every psychotherapist has a philosophy, whether he knows it or not. It will guide how he guides you.

When you accept that your feelings imply certain ideas, you are taking responsibility for your own mind. You don’t say: “I’m unhappy all the time because my mother didn’t love me enough.” You don’t say: “I’m unhappy all the time because there’s not enough government funding for social services, health care, or mortgage financing.” You don’t say: “I’m unhappy all the time because I have a chemical imbalance.”

Instead, you say: “I’m unhappy all the time because I’m thinking thoughts, and have ideas, which suggest life is a miserable place.” The implication is: “It’s up to me to identify and, where necessary, change my mistaken, distorted or exaggerated thinking.” This is taking responsibility for your emotions.

Am I suggesting that medication for mood problems is always wrong? I won’t go that far. But I am saying, with certainty, that your emotions stem from ideas; that your emotions ARE thoughts and ideas. If you utilize medication as a way to ignore or evade your ideas, rather than temporarily calm you so you can better think, then you’re attempting to escape the nature of your own consciousness. You’re attempting to escape reality. I don’t look down on people if they take medication, although I don’t automatically assume it’s the right thing for them, either (since many psychiatrists don’t spend more than 5 minutes a month with their patients).

I do look down on people if they refuse to take responsibility for their emotions. People who consult me usually want responsibility, because they would not consult somebody like me (in honest sincerity) unless that was their view. The people who would never consult a mental health professional, especially one such as myself, are the ones to watch out for, because it’s always wise to avoid people who don’t take responsibility for the inner workings of their minds.

In his recent book, ‘The Myth of the ‘Out of Character’ Crime,’ psychologist and criminal expert Stanton Samenow writes, ‘[Criminal] Offenders use their feelings to justify and explain anything and everything.’ So do a lot of non-criminal people.

And so does most of the psychiatric establishment as we know it.