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People often get confused about what emotions are. They may take feelings too seriously, believing that they are instructions or inescapable facts. They may try to control their emotions, by clinging to them or trying to push them away. But all these things just make feelings hard to cope with.

If you truly understand what emotions are, they can never hurt or worry you too deeply. Stop giving your feelings more power than they really have, by understanding what an emotion is, and what it is not.

An Emotion Is...

Not Real

An emotion is never the 'truth' of the matter. A feeling is not reality. All an emotion is is your perception of a situation. This doesn't mean that it's not important and you can just ignore how you feel, but it does mean that you should step back from your feelings sometimes, and know that they are your own response, not the reality. If you do feel a certain way, what different perception could you have that would make you feel differently too? What are the other sides of the story?

Not an Instruction To Act

So many people feel in thrall to their emotions, as if a feeling can make them behave a certain way. Emotions can be powerful, but they can't move our arms and legs for us, nor open our mouths. We should allow our emotions to inform us, rather than thinking they compel us to take a certain action. True wisdom lies in looking at your emotions rather than reacting mindlessly to them.


Emotions all serve a purpose and that's to convey information to us. They can alert us, warn us, teach us and tell us what to pay attention to. Fear, for example, is a hint that you might need to protect yourself. Anger might be a sign that someone has crossed your boundaries. If you listen to the information, figure out why it's there, and really acknowledge it deep inside, taking sensible action if you need to, to ensure things turn out for the best, the feeling will often pass.

Not Yours

It's helpful to know that emotions are shared by everybody – they are never yours alone. Feelings are part of the human condition, and right now, someone else in the world is probably feeling exactly as you do. At any given moment, we may share in the feelings that belong to human beings and connect with a particular one – but we didn't invent them, we don't own them, and they are never ours to keep. Remembering that can help when you're feeling a difficult emotion. An emotion is not you ‒ it's just something you're experiencing at a particular moment in time.


Emotions come and go and they never last for that long. If you're stuck in sorrow, anger or grief, remember that it's actually difficult to sustain an emotion for any length of time. You may feel like you're sad or grieving for days on end, but if you actually look at the reality, you'll notice you probably stop for lunch, when you go for a walk, when you talk to a friend, or when you do the dishes. And you probably don't feel now, exactly like you did yesterday or last week. Emotions come and go ‒ let them pass, and they will.

by Beth Burgess, Therapist and author of The Recovery Formula, The Happy Addict, and What Is Self-Esteem?

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