I received some interesting responses to my recent article about ‘feeling good’ being a primary goal in life. The majority of your comments centered on the role that friends, family and even TV news programs play in making us feel good or bad. But some who responded missed the point.
Personal responsibility and mental health are closely connected. But it’s popular to believe that others can ‘make’ you feel a certain way. Not so. Your feelings stem from an idea you hold in your mind — and they are subject to verification. Let’s say that Joe sells you a bad car. Your anger is based on the belief that he knowingly did this to you. But did he? That point is subject to verification. If you have solid proof that he knew, then your anger is justified. If that’s the case, then Joe didn’t actually make you angry; the source of your anger was the belief that he willfully cheated you.
This might seem like a picky and unimportant point. ‘What does it matter whether Joe made me angry, or my belief made me angry? Joe was wrong either way.’ OK, but what about the times when our beliefs and assumptions are mistaken? In those situations, it’s dangerous to assume that a person ‘makes’ you feel a certain way when, in fact, the emotion stems only from the ideas you formed in your mind.
Believing that other people make you feel a certain way is a denial of personal responsibility; a surrender to the false view that you’re not responsible for the workings of your own mind.
Emotions — automatic and compelling indications of what’s going on outside of you — are tricky. They can appear to be clear indicators of facts and the truth, but they can be misleading.
And not scrutinizing them can cause a loss of control over our lives. What a waste to spend your life arriving at unfounded conclusions your emotions told you were true, when in fact the conclusions didn’t stand up to reality.
Why hand over your intellectual and psychological destiny to other people? If Sue can ‘make’ you feel happy, then you’re dependent on her for your happiness. If Jack can ‘make’ you feel enraged, then you’re relying on Jack to do something different so you can be happy. Those of you who watch Cesar Millan on NatGeoWild will recognize this as his primary technique for making dogs ‘calm and submissive.’ Mr. Millan (who would make a great therapist for people) proves over and over again that canine behavior is predictable simply by examining (and maybe changing) the moods, feelings and stability of the owners. Of course, this might work for your Shih Tzu, but do you really want to go through life controlled by the actions of others?
A lot has been written about depression as the main cause of mental dissatisfaction and breakdown. The simplest definition of depression is that it’s an all-pervasive sense of helplessness. The attitude and lifestyle of ‘learned helplessness’ becomes the daily existence of the chronically depressed person. The first step to breaking the cycle is to discover whether you allow others to make you feel a certain way. This can be difficult for people who are used to accepting their emotions as truth. After all, there they are, right in front of you, and they’re hard to deny. Sometimes they can be right, and sometimes they can be painfully wrong. Going back to my example, imagine if you angrily ended your friendship with Joe; never giving him the chance to prove to you whether or not he knew the car was defective.
This is why reason is so important. It separates fact from fiction. By themselves, emotions and feelings aren’t automatically right or wrong, good or bad. They’re simply a ‘printout’ of what’s going on outside of you. Unlike the former Dog Whisperer’s canines, we humans have the ability to modify our own feelings by exercising reason and objectivity to validate (or invalidate) our emotions. Reason and objectivity not only separate us from our four-legged friends, but they are also the keys to a rational and fulfilling life.
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