Inertia - Nº119
You are not your emotions
Feelings are something you have; not something you are.
— Shannon L. Alder
“The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood” is one of my favourite phrases of all time. Only recently have I understood that few things come close to the beauty and simplicity of ensuring you’re in a good mood each day. What I love about it is it takes work: emotions are easy to oscillate between, but getting to the point of consistently being in a good mood means you need to understand emotions as a whole, not least your own.
Think about your emotions as clouds in the sky. Metaphorically speaking, the sky will always be the same, even if it’s obscured by clouds. The clouds will eventually pass. And there is no such thing as a never-ending storm in the same area forever. It will always pass, and the sun will rise again. Given our ever-changing clouds, it’s best not to be deflated or overjoyed by them. Indeed, we must learn to enjoy and accept thunderstorms like we do with beautiful sunny days. Equanimity.
This too shall pass.
Thinking about important lessons learned the hard way (there are many), one lesson to grok is that we are separate from our emotions. I’ve historically defined myself based on how I commonly reacted to situations. Whether I was upset during a rough time or angry about something going the wrong way. It meant that any negative emotion coursing through my blood was in complete control of me, and took ownership.
At 11 and starting at a bigger school, I was quickly exposed to the infamous culture of gossip, ostracism, and social pressure. I found myself in stressful situations that would annoy me or upset me or leave a feeling of dwelling anger due to hearing something insulting that was funny to others and “just a joke”. Those years were the height of experiencing all emotions, everywhere, all at once. And it naturally took a long time to craft the ability to not lose myself when trying to fit in. It’s tough at that age because you reach the inflection point where your biggest influence shifts from your parents to your peers. From that point, what you want is increasingly to be accepted by strangers. But in the last decade and a few years since then, the lessons I learned through it made for a much better sense of resilience now.
It’s why I find the saying about what our emotions are to us so profound. If you feel afraid or angry or confused, you don’t have to embody your emotions as who you are, as if that’s how you sum yourself upInsteader, you are simply an observer of your emotions.
Instead, take time to understand its origin and act logically based on that observation. Rationalising it helps. If I ever felt under the weather from a deflating message or news, I’d tell myself: “This is just an emotion. I’ll wake up feeling better again tomorrow.” Just realising it can help; you process things so differently when you’re aware of them, even if you struggle to spot this.
Being able to say “I am upset” is incredibly powerful because it can lead to asking, “Why am I upset?” It’s about having your emotions in the passenger’s seat rather than as the driver. And a little mental trick I like is to say “I feel” instead of “I am”. You could take that one step further and say, “I am noticing the feeling of…” as doing this puts you in the right frame of mind to tackle the why behind how you feel, which can improve your reaction to it.
Emotions are good at making us do things we regret afterwards. You can feel on top of the world one day and alone the next. But remember this: emotions are neutral pieces of information. You can learn a lot if you pay attention to them—granted, it’s not easy due to their complexity and where they originate—but it’s important to identify and actually process them; otherwise, they get stuck in your body, which can lead to long-term health problems down the line. You cannot control your reactions like you cannot control people. But in the same vein, you are not them, and they are not you. And recognising this each day is one of the most blissful feelings of our time.