But it also includes taking responsibility for our emotions.
All of your emotions.
And it's not that often that we do this.
Typically, the closest we come to the level of self-awareness that compels us to discuss our feelings is by saying things like:
"You made me angry."
"That makes me sad."
"This makes me feel uneasy."
"She made it awkward."
"This depresses me."
We hear comments like these all the time. But even though they sound legitimate, and certainly feel truthful while we say them, every one of those statements – and indeed any statement discussing feelings in the same sentence structure – is completely untrue.
Let's substantiate that with a basic fact.
Most of our lives we perceive things, remember things, or think things with no emotional reaction. How much emotion are you responding with to the sensation of pressure caused by part of your bodyweight passing through your feet while you're reading this? How much emotion do you give to seeing an individual blade of grass on a lawn? Or your keys where you left them, or a stranger talking on the phone? There's any number of things we don't have an emotional reaction to.
By the fact that we experience so much that we don't react emotionally to, we can deduce that our rules only apply in certain situations. That means there are rules that determine when an emotional response is even warranted. This tells us that our emotions are controlled wholly by our rules.
They're determined by our beliefs and needs.
They influence our desires and expectations.
They also influence our beliefs. Note the circular logic inherent between forming beliefs and values: wanting something to be true can cause us actually believe it to be true, for better or for worse.
They're influenced by beliefs.
They determine our values.
They're also influenced by our values (as mentioned above) and by our desires and needs.
They're determined by our needs and values.
They're predetermined by our physiology, and detailed best in the Maslow Hierarchy.
They're influenced by our values.
Free will, however, is exactly that: the ability to consciously or unconsciously select values, beliefs, behaviours, desires, and expectations. This selection exists exclusively at the whim of the individual concerned. No other force than your own mind has any influence over these.
These elements comprise the process which yields an emotional response to a stimulus. The process is triggered whenever our trigger rules' criteria are met. A common example would be perceiving something we deem significant (like hearing someone speak, suffering a heart attack, seeing a helicopter explode mid-flight, feeling a tortoise walk across our foot, smelling a cup of coffee, and so on). Once the process is triggered, the new information passes through the ruleset, and the result determines what emotional response we will then have.
The fact that every emotion you experience cannot reasonably be blamed on external factors is vital to keep in mind.
Because the emotions come from you; if you don't like them then it's up to you alone to figure out how to change them.
Fortunately you can achieve that systematically.
So how can I control my emotions?
Controlling your emotions means rewriting your personal rulebook.
You can manipulate the ruleset by creating values, expectations, beliefs, desires, and needs that make the most sense to you based on your own best judgement.
Throughout your life to date this has largely happened automatically. But now you're about to find that exerting conscious effort to tailor beliefs is not only possible, but extremely useful. It's the only way to make changes to the internal ruleset that determines the emotional response in any situation.
The first step is to record all your values, beliefs, needs, desires, and expectations. Needs you can get from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and you can't change them – everything else you'll need to delve into your own psyche.
Once you have your list, consider the merit of each item. When did you form it? Who does it help? How much does it help? Who does it hurt? How much does it hurt?
WHY did you form it in the first place?
What emotional response does it produce most often?
Is there a chance it be based on incorrect information?
What can you change about it to make it more helpful?
Why do you feel so strongly about keeping it?
In this process of rule-analysis, beliefs will be very difficult to change. Values even more so. You'll feel strong emotions as you try. You can manage that by coming back to it later. But to take control of your emotions you need to get through the whole list, and add any other buried beliefs to the list as they come up.
For each item in your rulebook, you'll face the decision of which is more important: The old belief OR your desire to control your emotions. The more you compromise on this and retain beliefs that produce in you strong negative emotions, the less emotional control you'll end up with.
Additional techniques and exercises and techniques for editing ones own beliefs, expectations, desires, and values will follow in subsequent articles – including the introduction of the DORVA Scale of emotion measurement coming soon! (release date: 1 January 2016)
Perhaps the most valuable change you can make immediately is to stop blaming your feelings on other people or events, and start taking responsibility for ALL of them yourself. This will require a change to the way you discuss them.
Instead of saying "This event made me feel <emotion>," phrase it more accurately: "I feel <emotion> because I disliked that event."
Ask yourself why you disliked the event. What values did it offend? What beliefs did it contradict? What expectation did it thwart? What desire or need did the event deny you, or someone else?
By examining the reasons for any strong feelings you have, you'll turn up beliefs, desires, and expectations that might not already be on your original list.
And by beginning to think and talk about your emotions in terms of beliefs, values, needs, desires, and expectations, you'll gain a far deeper understanding of the way your feelings work, and more opportunities to get the outcomes you desire.
Next time someone asks you "How did that make you feel?" remember that it didn't MAKE you feel anything; Your emotional reaction was the result of a conflict with one or more values, expectations, beliefs, desires, or needs.
So a better question for them to ask is "How do you feel about that?" Notice that's the phrasing clinical psychologists tend to use.
Once you start thinking about the underlying conflicts behind negative emotions, you'l have taken the first step to emotional self-control.
And once you've fully re-written your rulebook, you'll be in total command of your emotions no matter the circumstances.
Thanks for learning!
"Character -- the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life -- is the source from which springs self respect." Joan Didon.