Can we control our emotions?

I am not sure what your take on / answer to this question is.  I just read a blog (and I will not reveal which as we all have our take on this) which talks about the person’s brain as an enemy and emotions as something that need to be controlled.  This week I was reading some excellent information in a book on emotional eating.  In the book the author Jennifer L. Taitz writes:

We can’t control our emotions any more than we can control the weather.  Let’s try this : Get really happy right now.  Tough isn’t it?  Try harder?  What do you notice? Joy, sadness, confusion, loss – none of these can be turned on or off at our command.  Willpower is simply not helpful here.  In fact, efforts to switch melancholy into the “all joy, all of the time” channel will generally magnify your sadness into misery.  Why set yourself up?  Why “fail” at something that is not possible?

While you may inhibit the ways you express an emotion, physiologically you experience increased sensations in parallel with any attempt to suppress your emotions…. if you try to avoid feeling anxious, you may reduce the look of panic on your face to some degree but your heart rate will increase as a result of trying to fake calmness.

The attempt to suppress or control our emotions further also tends to limit our ability to organise information.  Have you ever noticed that when you are battling some emotion inwardly you tend to misplace things?  Or that it just gets harder to get organised?  I have.

People who suppress emotion or try to control it are also more likely to indulge in comfort eating.  I know this can be a result of boredom as well.  How many of us does this happen for?

You start feeling sad.  You don’t express the emotion, but try to stop feeling it.  You now have less control when it comes to choosing what you eat and are more likely to eat unhealthy comfort foods.  Then, you feel guilt when you do turn to comfort foods – another negative emotion?  Any bets on what happens when you suppress the guilt?  When you maintain rigid standards of perfection, or are not willing to accept yourself as you are, food serves as a temporary escape, but escaping once makes it that much more likely you’ll be driven to escape again, and again, forgetting that this strategy doesn’t actually work in the long term.

The way out of this negative feedback loop?  Acceptance.  Try accepting your emotions.  Try saying to yourself “I know you are feeling sad,  that’s okay I am here for you.  I will listen to you and hold your hand while we feel it together.  We can survive this pain.  I am here for you and I won’t abandon you by eating (drinking, smoking, etc) while you are sad.” (or angry or confused or guilty or lonely or whatever else!)

Taitz reminds us that often we can confuse emotional pain with hunger.  We may be reaching for food when it is not really what we are hungry for.  We may be hungry for our own love and attention.  Trying to control things only makes them worse. When we repress or try to control something we don’t really deal with it, it often comes back bigger and larger and hungrier to bite us on the bum.  And we don’t learn the lessons it has for us or hear what our deeper soul is really trying to tell us.

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