Problematic Emotions

As we have been slowly discovering, our thoughts, behavior and emotions are all connected. One has an impact on the other. When it gets to be too much, we experience unhappiness or discontent. In this section, we will look at emotions, gain a better understanding of what is going on and then begin to unwind the mess that your emotions get you into. We will then discover research-supported ways to manage your emotions and keep them in control, by using CBT.

What are Emotions?

There are many different emotions that everyone feels. Everybody is unique, and feel things in different ways. However, they can be split into "pleasant and unpleasant emotions.”. This differentiation allows you to look at emotions through the lens of whether they are helping or impeding your ability to pursue personally meaningful goals, and how effectively or ineffectively you are able to manage a particular emotion in your everyday life.

The Emotional Map

We all have our own ways of describing emotions. Therefore, telling somebody how we feel, can be like speaking in another language. Even though people can understand their own emotions, explaining what you mean when you say you feel "bad" can be difficult. Therefore, creating an emotional map helps you and others to realize what you’re feeling without any confusion. It also allows you to start to better understand what you’re feeling. In this way, you can work towards eliminating unpleasant emotions and replacing them with pleasant ones.

While we realize that it’s very difficult to sit down and think about what you’re feeling, it’s one of the best ways to start dealing with your problems. Therefore, it’s an essential part of any therapy, including CBT.

This section will primarily deal with you and your emotions. It will start to help you with the process of mapping out your emotions in a logical way. As a result, you will be able to better understand why you feel the way you do. The emotional map starts with looking at what triggered your feelings. You will then explore what you did (“your behavior”), the feelings that you experienced (the “emotional diagnosis”) and your take on the situation (the “emotional conclusion”).

The illustration below shows the steps that you go through in your work to create your own emotional map:

Emotional Map

It’s now time for you to fill out your emotional map!

 Worksheet: My emotional map

The components of your emotions

Feelings don’t exist in isolation. There are many important things (including our behavior) that affect our emotions. All human emotions are comprised of four components: thoughts, memories and attention, physical effects and behaviors. Each component interacts with and strengthens the others.

The components of your emotions

“Thoughts” are what you are saying to yourself about what is happening. The thoughts may be about the situation, other people or you. “Memories and Attention” includes focusing on past experiences that may come up for you, as you are dealing with this current problem. This could include remembering unkind words from a teacher or parent or replaying an error that you made in the past. “Physical Effects” refer to how your body is reacting, such as tight muscles or a loss of appetite. Finally, “Behavior” involves what you are doing and not doing. Examples include avoiding friends or engaging in other unhealthy behaviors.

As you can most likely tell, these components are all intertwined and impact each other.

It’s important to realize that having unpleasant emotions is part of life. Our goal is to prevent unpleasant emotions from taking over your focus, your body or your behaviors. When they do, it prevents you from effectively dealing with what happened and moving on.

Now it’s time for you to take a deeper look into one of your emotions. You will see how it can be broken down into these four components. Use the emotion that you wrote down as “emotional conclusion” in the last worksheet. In our example, we will use the emotion “useless,” which was the “emotional conclusion” in our last example.

 Worksheet: The components of my emotion

Challenging my negative unhealthy emotions

Challenging your negative unhealthy emotions doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to stop feeling emotions or indifference about your life. It means that you’re going to try to replace your unhealthy negative emotions with other negative emotions, but this time with ones that are healthier. Why? Because this will allow you to take better control of your feelings and different components that contribute to your feelings. When doing this exercise, focus on a situation that triggers your unhappiness/negative state and think about how you felt about this situation. You should then consider what would be a more appropriate and healthy negative emotion. It’s now time for you to try it out!