Emotion Management 101

A reader writes: I have a question about obsessing or putting too much weight on emotions.  The question to myself was, ‘What if I did not have emotions, how would I know if what I was doing was good or bad’?  

The answer is very clear. I would simply see if what I was doing was for my life or against it. Am I promoting my life or am I destroying it?  Then I thought, if it’s that simple (and much less confusing than emotions) — why depend so much on my emotions to tell me what’s right or wrong?  Instead, just look at the facts and make a clear evaluation.

The reader makes an excellent point.

Emotions are not tools of cognition, as Ayn Rand wrote. This means emotions are not a replacement for thought.

Emotions are a form of value judgments. When you love something, it’s an evaluation that the thing is valuable to you—that it advances your life, somehow. The same applies with a person. ‘This person embodies what’s valuable to me.’ In that sense, he or she advances your life, just by being the person he or she is.

Emotions are valuable and worthwhile. It’s a mistake to repress your emotions. If you do, you miss out on the experience of valuing life.

At the same time, you must be willing to question or think about your emotions. If not, life becomes very complicated and confusing.

Unpleasant emotions are not problems in themselves. They’re simply evaluations. Through self-awareness, it’s necessary to give words to emotions.

When you feel something, it’s an expression of what you’re thinking.

The task becomes: ‘What thoughts and ideas are present in these emotions? What do I think of those thoughts and ideas?’

People who are depressed treat depression as the cause of their problems, rather than the manifestation. ‘I’m depressed. I must eradicate the depression and make it go away.’ It sounds reasonable, but it’s not right.

If you’re depressed, your mind is expressing a combination of thoughts and ideas. Examples include, ‘There’s no point or purpose in pursuing anything. I cannot do anything. Life is not worthwhile.’ Or something like that.

These malevolent, exaggerated or unduly negative thoughts and ideas are the cause of the problem. Depression is the result.

If you attempt to eradicate the result—the depression—you’re ignoring the cause, i.e. the ideas. The problem cannot really go away. I’m not saying it’s always wrong to address or treat symptoms. But it’s always wrong to ignore the causes.

The same is true with any emotional state. It doesn’t have to be depression or some other emotional malady.

It’s good to experience but also to fully understand all your emotions. ‘Why am I feeling this way?’ isn’t the best question, I find. The better question is, ‘What thoughts and ideas are these emotions expressing?’ Or: ‘What would these emotions say, if they could talk?’

Once you identify the thoughts underlying your feelings, you’re in a position to ask if these value judgments involve advancing your life, or undercutting it.

Everything you think or do in life either advances it, or subverts it. It’s up to you to identify which way any given emotion or action is taking you.

The only alternative is to go with your feelings. Going blindly with your feelings, without understanding or evaluating them, would be like letting another person tell you what to do—and blindly following those orders.

Some people mistakenly think, ‘If I go with my feelings, I’m being true to myself.’ Not necessarily. When you go with intelligent and independent reasoning about your feelings, you’re much more likely to act in your best interests.


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