How to know when to trust your emotions, and when to respectfully ignore them.

Emotions are a part of what makes us human, what makes us relate to others, feel empathy, and experience moments. Emotions can be a blessing and a curse, and can sometimes determine how we act or treat people. It can also determine how we operate in a given situation, and how we live. 

Where Do Emotions Come From?

If you are aware of the vulnerability of emotions, you might understand that you could be taken advantage of by them. So, although some emotions may feel good, there is a rational element at play. On the other hand, if you are falling in love with someone you know, and are trusted by your closest friends, you might be able to rely on your emotions with ease. The next step to deciding whether to trust your emotional responses is to discern whether it's a rational response to the situation, and understand where they come from. 

Emotional reactions are conditioned responses that we learn from family members as we grow up. So ask yourself, is this emotion truly how you feel or did your subconscious adopt it somewhere along the way? 

Should you really trust your emotions? The answer to this question requires identifying how emotions are formed, which will help find the source of your response. According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT, we experience primary and secondary emotions. For example, if you feel discouraged because of a rejection, the primary emotion you're feeling is scared or vulnerable. These primary emotions can often be traced back to early childhood. Once you figure that out, you can begin to trace your emotional responses to various moments throughout your life. Once you figure it out, think of how it makes you feel. Are these good moments or bad? Are they guiding you or harming you? Emotions should be like your friend. They are trustworthy, kind, and should bring you peace. 

A graphic image of a person's head with emojis inside.
Emotions are a huge part of what makes us human, and are difficult to ignore. Image courtesy of Business Community.

Why You Shouldn’t Trust Your Emotions

Many psychologists would argue that emotions are subjective and should not be trusted, because they are not based on fact, only what our brains are telling us in the moment. Emotions often stem from past experiences; traumas, struggles, moments which create limbic responses. This is why, sometimes, it’s not a good idea to fully rely on your emotions to guide you. People you knew in the past are not the same people who are in your future. Just because someone broke your heart, doesn’t mean it is going to happen again. Sometimes, our emotions can be our enemy, and cause us to think things that are completely false simply because the situation reminds us of one we've already experienced, and we relate it to what’s happening in the present because it’s our only frame of reference. 

However, it is important to give yourself credit. Emotions aren’t useless, and they deserve to be respected, but not necessarily blindly followed. It’s important to also recognize that a lot of emotional responses are a result of the past, and by doing so, we can use it to move forward and create fresh ones. 

The reason therapists recommend not trusting your emotions is because they should be used to build wisdom and clarity, but not cloud your judgment or your opinions. We grow by changing and using past experiences to help us, not hurt us. Therapists are always looking for ways to reframe the past, and take away whatever pain is still affecting you, including emotional responses. 

A woman with mascara down her face holding a piece of paper with a smile on it.
Emotions can be hard to ignore, and they can wreak havoc on our rational mind. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Why You Should Trust Your Emotions

Your emotions are part of you; they come from somewhere in your life, and are there to help guide you. Not to say that they are always correct, but you can trust them to an extent. Sometimes, trusting our emotions is uncomfortable and scary, because it means recognizing that we are vulnerable. For example, sometimes people - men in particular - can feel sadness and turn it into anger because they cannot fathom being vulnerable or feeling something. If we simply trust our emotions and really connect to ourselves, we wouldn’t have to go through the anger, just the pure emotion. 

It is helpful to listen to your emotions in relationships, too. Many relationships are complicated, and sometimes you can surprise yourself with how you’re feeling when you’re with the other person. Many people may not know how they truly feel about someone, and then they end up surprising themselves. For example, if you’re convincing yourself that someone is good for you and that you are meant to be, you may start to believe it. Only when you connect to your true emotions will you know the truth about the relationship. Upon looking deeper into your psyche, you may find that this person leaves you feeling empty or wanting something more. The more blind you become to your emotions, the harder it is to connect to them. Sometimes, you may not realize the truth until years later. You may discover what’s been inside the back of your mind all along, that you aren’t truly happy although you may have been telling yourself otherwise the whole time. 

One good thing about emotions is that you may end up surprising yourself with something you didn’t know you were experiencing. Emotions can become harmful when they stem from your past experiences. We store memories in our brains like a hard drive, and sometimes we don’t even know that they are there. Our brains will react to something in a way we never expected, creating an emotional response as a result of triggering that memory. This is an example of a time where emotions may need a second opinion before making a decision for you. When we make an executive, rational decision about something and use our emotions simply as reference, we may feel better about it in the long run, and won’t wonder if we made the right call due to being emotional.

A graphic diagram with categories of emotions.
Emotions are complex and powerful, and can cause both physical and neurological responses. Image courtesy of Very Well Mind.

How to Prevent Your Emotions from Taking Over Your Life

If we are ruled by fear due to past experience, it will hinder our lives and hold us back. When we let go of these emotions from the past, we can finally begin to live life as we were meant to. This is why it’s important to recognize your emotions, but not allow them to have too much power over us. While emotions are very important in making decisions and living day by day, it’s easy to assume that all emotions are healthy and good. Sometimes, our emotions work too well, for example, when we have primal responses to events in our life. 

We often have anxious moments where our emotions take over and create a flight or fight response, which was used when human beings were in physical danger. Now, most of the time, we are not in literal danger, but our brains have held onto those responses for generations. 

It’s hard to break deeply rooted responses, but by being aware that they are just that, responses, we can begin to reframe our thinking. 

Exercises like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), can be helpful in recognizing and reframing emotional responses to better ourselves and allow us to become our best selves without being held back by fear, anxiety, or sadness. 

People will often use their emotions as an excuse not to date someone, not to try something new, and not to take chances. This is often due to past experience and emotional pain. It does more harm than good to hold yourself back, which is why it’s important to recognize and reframe so you can live your best life. Not to say emotions aren’t important in some cases, but it’s up to you to decide when it's appropriate to rely on them, and not let them run your life. 

Dec 2, 2022