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In this episode Joel and Antonia tackle the question: “Can people control their emotions or do emotions happen to us?”

In this podcast you’ll find:

Antonia’s video on the emotional thermostat.

Joel’s video on changing negative emotions to positive emotions.

Total Control vs. No Control Theory of Emotions: Can you control your emotions or not? by Jeremy Sherman

Two camps:

  1. You have total control of your emotions;
  2. You have no control over your emotions.

Both are extremes. Both are unrealistic. We need to fall in the middle.

“Full and total control” is a long game statement. Not an in-the-moment statement.

Social surroundings alter expression of emotion. You have control of your emotions when you feel you should be in control, like in a social environment.

Emotional expression and the emotion itself seems very intertwined.

Are we in control of our dreams? There are ways to take control of your dreams. Some people have this ability naturally. Others train themselves to do this. It’s called Lucid Dreaming.

It is similar with emotions. Controlling your dream world is harder than controlling your emotions.

You can’t control your unconscious mind completely, but you can have influence over it with breathing techniques and meditation.

The idea that you are not in control of your emotions sounds strange. No one can get into our heads and tell us how we should feel. We interpret the data set within our mental framework.

All of us experience emotions very subjectively. There are consensus definitions of emotion which we assume are objective, but they’re not. They are still subjective.

Some negative or toxic emotions can shorten your life. Especially toxic emotions like resentment.

Harboring emotions can become addictive. If you have a tendency to trend toward toxic emotions, you will have a shorter, more unhappy life – and vice versa. If you trend toward happiness, forgiveness, and joy, your life will be more meaningful, and you will live longer.

What increases the quality of your life?

Sometimes we believe that harboring resentment or other negative emotions will keep us safe from being taken for granted.

To have no control over emotions indicates we are static, whereas the mind is plastic. If the mind is plastic, emotions are plastic because they live in the mind.

Would you ever tell someone that they don’t have control over their mindset, outlook, or religious experience? No, but to tell someone they don’t have control over their emotions is acceptable.

You can build skill in controlling your emotions over the long game.

If your Judging processor is extraverted (INFJ, INTJ, ENFJ, ENTJ, ESFJ, ESTJ, ISTJ, ISFJ) you are going to have more of a concept around controlling emotions than a Perceiver.  A Judgers evaluative criteria is based on how the outside world is being impacted. If people are just showing up any way they want, the outside world becomes destabilized.

Controlling your emotions in the outside world is going to be more of a Judger thought.

And the idea that you should feel permission to express your authentic emotion, no matter where you are, may be more of a Perceiver belief.

The people who are the most protective of any emotional experience are going to be IFPs (ISFP, INFP).

They want the entire range of emotions at all times. Like the keys on a keyboard. The IFPs want the whole range available to them.

There is a more skillful way to do it, though so that it is more pleasant for everyone.

You may not always be in control of the emotions that come up for you, but you are responsible for the emotions that come up and how you express them. Nobody else can be responsible for your emotions.

Whether emotions are positive or negative is context dependent. How much are you impacting your life by emotion?

Everybody should have permission to feel the emotion that is coming up at the moment. If you don’t acknowledge emotions as they come up, you won’t have a clear starting point to identify when an emotion is happening.

Giving yourself permission to feel an emotion doesn’t mean you are giving it permission to explode outward and affect everyone around you.

We have an emotional comfort zone. The more your comfort zone is set to joy, satisfaction, and happiness the more you will endeavor to maintain that comfort zone.

As opposed to being calibrated to grief, sadness, and depression and looking to return to that comfort zone whenever life takes a turn toward more positive things.

We should process through the negative emotions and endeavor to maintain a more positive mindset. We shouldn’t be living in the zone of toxic emotions.

We can decide where we want our emotional thermostat set.

Give yourself permission to feel the full spectrum of emotions, then realize that you have the control to return yourself to a space that is more rewarding in the long run.

If you know how to live with your emotional thermostat set really low. If you feel empowered in this mindset, and can empower others, please tell us how you do this.

We go through phases of our emotions as we grow and develop.  

Progress varies. We are all at different phases of development. We like to paint the ideal even if we aren’t there yet. If you don’t like it, throw it away. Do what works for you. This is what works for us.

 

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Showing 23 comments
  • Jay Trese
    Reply

    Nice podcast, I often argue with others that you can control how you express your emotions. But you can not always control what others make you feel. I think that Joel is redefining what it means for someone else to make you feel a certain way. Granted my emotion of sadness is mine, but in most case it will be reconize as sadness by others.
    If someone goes out of there way to make you feel something unless that person means nothing you they will probally succeed. Even if its just the emtion of anger or frustration or maybe amusement.
    In another podcast Joel mentions a difficult time he has when coming across something while cleaning up, something about that object made him feel an emotion that he did not want to deal with.
    While it may be possible to control all emotion, it is mentioned in the end of the podcast that you often have to feel an emtion to process an traumatic event.
    Maybe I am just missing Joel’s point but to me this means that to be a seen as a some what normal person, others can and will make you feel ‘your’ emotions. It is how you express it that matters since this is how others will percieve you.

    • Joel Mark Witt
      Reply

      To bring more clarity – here is my stance on this.

      Nothing outside of myself (object, person, etc) can MAKE me feel anything. They can only provide me with a data point that leads to a thought or narrative that sets off a chain reaction in my brain that associates that thought or action with a complex emotional response. This response is extremely nuanced – but most of us give it very basic labels like “sad” – “happy” – “depressed” – “angry” – “scared.”

      That “chain reaction” I mentioned above is different for different people.

      I may tell Person A that I don’t like the car they drive. They don’t like it either and they feel “angry” because their ex-spouse got the “good car” in the divorce.

      I said I don’t like their car and they have an entire narrative in their heads about their Ex and the divorce that has now set off a complex emotional response that we could label as “angry.”

      Then I tell Person B I don’t like the car they drive. They don’t like their car either – just like person A. But in this case – it’s their current spouse’s car and they think it was a dumb decision to buy it. Instead of “anger” – they have a narrative where I now agree with them that this is a bad car – setting off a complex emotional response we could label as “excited.” Their spouse pressured them into buying this car and they thought it was dumb and are “excited” because I am providing them with social proof for the narrative they’ve constructed in their mind.

      In both examples I’m saying something negative about the car each person is driving. Both examples point to a car that isn’t the person’s primary car. Both Person A and Person B don’t like the car they are driving… and yet they had drastically different responses based on my exact same words.

      Why?

      Did I make Person A feel “angry?”

      Did I MAKE Person B feel “excited?”

      Of course not.

      All I did was give them an access point to a narrative they already have running in their own mind. When this narrative is accessed it sets off a chain reaction of complex emotional responses that are then given oversimplified labels like “angry” or “excited.”

      What I’m suggesting in this podcast:

      1) We have control over the narratives in our mind. Once I realized I could control the narrative of any event happening in my life – I gained tremendous power in my life.

      2) We alone are responsible for the connections between our narratives and the complex emotional responses those narratives can lead us to.

      3) It is possible to manipulate and/or disconnect the narratives and their relationship to the complex emotional responses they can bring up for us. With practice and intention we can control of which complex emotional responses come from which narratives.

      A STORY

      I remember walking into a Chipotle to pick up a pre-ordered amount of food several years ago. When I got into the restaurant – the food wasn’t ready. I was hungry and had a car load of hungry kids waiting. The manager came over asked if I wanted something extra on my taco because they hadn’t finished making it yet. I said yes and then he asked me to wait in line with everyone else to get the extra toppings for my food.

      Here was the initial narrative running in my head:

      I purposely ordered ahead of time to prevent waiting in line. I had a car of hungry kids waiting to eat. We had been driving all day and I was also hungry and tired. Now this manager was incompetent and didn’t have my order ready… and now I have to wait because of this “idiot manager” who is messing everything up.

      This narrative started bringing up complex emotional responses of “frustration” – “anger” – and “disappointment.”

      Did the manager or Chipotle MAKE me feel these emotions? Or are those emotions mine?

      Did the manager reach into my brain and associate my narrative with complex emotional responses – and then make sure I thought about that specific narrative so I would have those specific emotional responses? Was the manager even aware of the narrative I was casting?

      After 20 minutes I finally took the food out to the car. I started ranting and raving about how stupid/difficult/incompetent this guy was and how I had to wait for 20 minutes for our food.

      As I was ranting to my family – I realized that the narrative I chose to believe about the manager and situation had triggered emotions that were now causing my wife and children in the car to create their own narratives about me – that in turn triggered complex emotional responses in them we could label “frustration” and “agitation.” (This rabbit hole goes deep my friend).

      I instantly stopped my ranting mid-sentence. I realized that I had the power to take control of my emotions by controlling my narratives.

      I asked myself, “what other possibility can I see here?”

      I then began articulating out loud an alternative narrative about the manager at Chipotle…

      In this new narrative – I am still tired and hungry with kids waiting for food. But this time the manager isn’t incompetent – he is actually VERY competent and he’s ensuring that my order is correct. Because my online order may have been unclear – he waits until I come into the restaurant so he can ask me if I want something extra on my taco. He asks me to go back in line – not to annoy me – but because he knows that by having me go back through the line the quality assurance systems Chipotle has in place will ensure a quality food product.

      Instantly this narrative started shifting access to a different set of my brain’s complex emotional responses. I started to feel complex emotions we would label as “calmer” – “centered” – “empowered” – and actually “gratefully happy.”

      I liked feeling this way. I now had a full belly. My family was fed. My positive re-frame started influencing my family to match me and run narratives in their minds that allowed them to also set off and access complex emotions we can label as “happy” – “empowered” – etc.

      Did I MAKE my family feel happy? Or did I help provide a context where they could access narratives that would set off complex emotion responses we could label as “positive?”

      It is my belief that narrative casting, narrative manipulation and ultimately emotional control is available to all of us. It may take some practice to master it. And once you do – I believe it will serve you very well in your life.

      Hope that adds more clarity. Thank you for the comment and allowing me to explain this in greater detail.

      • Jay Trese
        Reply

        Ok,thank you, that does clarify your point. I suspect that most people will rarely get to level you appear to be at.
        In general we as social people may need to feel somewhat resposible for how we may affect others knowing that our behavior can allow an opening into others people emotions.
        Great explanation fully explainef your view i beleive.

        • Joel Mark Witt
          Reply

          Thanks Jay. I appreciate your feedback and asking great questions. 🙂

      • ELIZABETH
        Reply

        I think this analysis is missing something. People can consciously or unconsciously take advantage of their knowledge of a person and deliberately act in such a way as to invoke a specific emotional response. Now we are still responsible for how we respond to people, but the person that deliberately set out to invoke that response sure isn’t innocent either. I’ve never actually done this on a conscious level, but other people do.

  • Lyndsie Plowman
    Reply

    I can relate to being empowered by low vibrational emotions because of the community I found through them. Punk shows, goth clubs, activist groups and hardcore metal festivals often have a baseline of melancholy, anger and infinite sadness. Inclusive communities can come in many forms. It is often the support of community that keeps people there. A few friends, family members and colleagues are incredibly clear that their emotional thermostat is set to low vibrational emotions intentionally because they feel most authentic there. They feel that our world is not comfortable being clear minded in these states and are doing work around community engagement through healthy expressions of these emotions. I’ve noticed that there is shame around mental health issues whose baseline emotional thermostat is set lower than most. I am not convinced that living in these states of emotion is a temporary step on their evolution of emotional maturity. They have stretched and came back to a vibration that is considered by others to be unhealthy but is experienced by them as empowering.

    • Joel Mark Witt
      Reply

      Thanks Lyndsie for sharing. I think you make a good point. We don’t want to shame people who are struggling with feelings that others would demonize or classify as “negative”. I agree that we need to honor people and meet them where they’re at.

      And I would also add… just because something feels authentic doesn’t always make it useful. A serial killer may indicate that slaughtering people is authentic for them (the TV show Dexter tried to play in this space). Maybe it is authentic for them… and we still lock them up when they are caught because it’s not ultimately useful. Their authenticity doesn’t serve them or the rest of us in that particular expression of mass murder.

      I totally honor meeting people where they are… and I have a belief that working toward more healthy (also could read “useful”) emotions serve us as people more than not. That’s how I’ve chosen to see the world.

      If a hard metal festival and the people who attend are like-minded and one gets permission to express the darker parts of the self in that environment – awesome. And it is my belief that it would be difficult (and ultimately not “useful”) to live there all the time. I still maintain that it can be a healthy stage.

      Thanks again for a really great comment.

  • Jonathan Randle
    Reply

    I must admit, I always have a hard time with this idea of “no one can MAKE you feel anything.” I heard it in psychology class a long time ago, and my initial instinct (as is now) was to say, “But people DO make others feel emotions”. Perhaps I am not just getting a key element in your argument, Joel, but I still can’t see it.

    In your example, you are redirecting the narratives that trigger those emotions. But don’t those restructured narratives come AFTER the initial visceral reaction? And if so, then you are not in control of how you initially feel, but you are only in control of how you interpret and express.

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But words CAN hurt me (my feelings at least). Especially if you know my narratives and how I as a human react to tone, symbol, expression. When I say and hear someone else say “a person made me feel this way,” what I am saying is that they triggered an emotion or reaction within me involuntarily, or that wasn’t of my own will.

    In my mind, the best way to describe it is if you think of the outer person (physical nature) as made of transparent water. The shape of the person is formed by this water. And imagine you can see inside the person (the psyche/mind/soul), and you see the cluster of emotions (sadness, anger, happiness, nostalgia) as different colored nodes or coins or whatever. To make someone feel something, all a person would have to do is bring up a “finger,” press through the water layer, and “poke” at one of the nodes, which brings about an initial ripple reaction throughout the body. Of course the nodes can ripple to other nodes and create different shades of emotion, but that initial reaction is still there.

    For example. If someone gave me a book, I would feel excited and then happy/grateful. Or if someone cut in front of me, then my initial reaction is anger and then to say something very unpleasant to them.

    What I hear you saying, Joel, is that you either protect certain nodes or you redirect that initial ripple and assign it to another node (anger to happiness). You do what you have termed “emotional aikido”. But what I am arguing is that even if you redirect or change the narrative, someone or something still pressed that node that made you feel a certain reaction initially. And that’s something you can’t control (or at least I don’t see how you’re controlling it).

    What are your thoughts? Am I still missing a piece of your argument?

    • Tasha
      Reply

      Johnathan, thanks for making that point! I was wondering also about that initial emotional response, and how it seems to be out of our control. Like Joel said, we can control how we process and express the emotion after feeling it, but where the feeling comes from in the first place seems to be unreachable to us, like a void.

      My interpretation is that the initial feeling comes from our already predisposed mindset which is shaped by our belief constructs, childhood and social conditioning, emotional IQ etc. Let’s call those things our “karma”! For example, when a hopeless emotion surfaces when your date doesn’t contact you back, that is a direct reflection of your karma! One person might feel hopeless due to low self-esteem and not feeling good enough, where as another person might instead feel curious and wonder if their date is maybe sick or had an accident. Karma shapes our initial reactions! These reactions are triggered by the other party (intentional or unintentional) but are still created by us in our own reality.

      I believe that our “karma” can not only be rewritten, but is the core foundation to changing any aspect of our lives in a deep, authentic way. So does this mean our initial emotions are controllable? In the present moment, no: once an emotion is birthed, it’s there waiting to be examined or shoved deep inside and neglected. But in the long run, yes: with mindfulness, self-compassion and consistent effort, we can change our initial emotional reactions 🙂

    • Joel Mark Witt
      Reply

      Thanks Jonathan for the comment. I shot a video that I believe will break down my thinking around this:

      http://www.personalityhacker.com/video-systems-thinking-and-emotions

  • Gopi Jayaraman
    Reply

    1. Positive thinking
    2. Emotional Intelligence
    3. IQ

    1 + 2 – 3 = innocent, non-productive (who manages these people loses emotion control)
    1 + 2 + 3 = achiever, easy to get things done (the balanced layer)
    1 + 3 – 2 = arrogant, productive but irritates (who reports/work with these people loses emotion control)
    2 + 3 – 1 = criminal, cheats in the long run by talking nicely (who reports/work with these people loses emotion control)

  • Rebecca Sink-Burris
    Reply

    I learned from a therapist that one could often choose how to respond to a situation rather than just feeling as you have habitually in the past. For me this translated into me deciding to be angry rather than sad in some situations. Very empowering as letting myself go toward sadness led to more depression and passivity, while telling myself to be angry led to positive action on my part. I am pretty sure that growing up, it was OK to be sad but not to be angry.

    • Joel Mark Witt
      Reply

      Thanks Rebecca for sharing. Sounds like you have figured out ways to take more control of your emotions.

  • Tanya Krushen
    Reply

    Thank you for this podcast. It’s given my mind something to chew on all morning. I do believe I’m in control of my own emotions. I take ownership for myself and how I react to others. It can be very difficult to face the ugly in myself at times but I can take it! It gets easier with life experience.

    • Joel Mark Witt
      Reply

      Tanya – that’s great that you’ve taken control of your emotions. Do you have any tips on how you’ve done it?

  • Laura
    Reply

    Tasha, I have some thoughts on your point of ‘karma’, in relation to a situation where you would expect most people to feel a very particular way after how someone has treated them.

    I’m going to go straight to some pretty nasty situations here. If someone killed your entire family, you would probably feel really angry, fearful, grievously sad, hopeless, etc.

    You would probably (unless you really disliked them) not feel super happy and excited.

    There is some context here, and some karma. Assumedly you loved, or at least at some point loved your family. And this has created some emotional channels such that when your family is hurt, you feel a range of so-called ‘negative’, but potentially useful, emotions.

    So initially you feel very hurt. And this feeling is important for the grieving process and a motivator for our legal systems.

    If you wish to gradually wean yourself off that emotional addiction, however, it will take a long time and be a lot more difficult than for example if someone just told you your family sucks.

    I suppose this catalyst, the data that comes from the other that sets of your chain reaction thought and emotion process, is weighted in some way. But I suppose this comes back to our judging nature. We judge murder as a lot worse than verbal insult, in most contexts.

    Still, if you are taking your karma as ‘normal’ for a particular social context (in my society you would be expected to be angry if your family is killed) then it becomes easier for others to manipulate your emotions. If the other person knows somehow what chain of events is likely to be triggered in your head when they take a certain action, then they are manipulating your emotions, and so controlling them, even if indirectly.

    This is commonly seen with bullying. I myself was bullied for quite a long time by a particular person, without being able to see the situation completely clearly. So now, even though I am slowly chipping away at that resentment, I cannot help but feel that this person has ‘put a dent’ in my emotional processing abilities. Overall I am still responsible for my emotions, but I feel that this person has made it more difficult for me to control certain emotions.

  • Catherine Carroll
    Reply

    Emotions seem to be hard-wired to begin with. Infants have emotions all of the time and I can’t imagine that they have any data points, thought processes or narratives. I think that these narratives come along and exacerbate or somewhat repress the hard-wired aspects of emotions. I’m sure there is some science around this but as an INTP who is surprised whenever my emotions emerge from nowhere, the hard-wired part just seems true. 🙂

  • Joseph Huth
    Reply

    You two are fantastic. What a team effort in creating a dynamic where the sum is greater than it’s parts. It’s exciting and it’s a pleasure to listen to your exchange. I have thought a lot about this concept of emotional control. Thank you for “unpacking the nuances” (a great new phrase for me, an English teacher) of the topic.

  • Joseph Huth
    Reply

    To clarify, in my previous post I meant to say – ‘you have created a dynamic in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

  • Denise MaGee
    Reply

    I had a hard time listening to this podcast – I stopped and started a few times and just couldn’t make it all the way through.

    Please quit valencing emotions as either positive/negative or the new way you worded it as useful/useless.

    Stress is a “weasel” word that can be used for many actual emotions, e.g. fear, anger. If we can identify the emotion, it makes it easier to attend to it properly.

    I agree that no one makes you “feel” an emotion. That’s assigning blame. But certain emotions and feelings do arise in situations that allow us better understanding of what’s going on if we listen to them.

    Yes, body posture and facial expressions can bring out feelings that maybe have no real reason to be there. Look up Amy Cuddy. She has a TED talk about her research into power poses.

    This is where you lost me. You were talking about “toxic” emotions. And maybe you went further with this, but it felt like you were basically saying ‘just get over it already’. How about instead we look at it as people who have unresolved emotions and traumas from the past that they are currently unable to work through. You can’t ‘will’ them away or “control” them. You have to work through them or they will continuously show up.

    I’ve done a lot of research on emotions, feelings and shadow work. By far the best information I’ve found comes from Karla McLaren. She’s written 2 books – The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy. She has videos on YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BmWEnaIxtE and a website where she has shared a lot of information from her books. http://karlamclaren.com/

    Either one would give you a better understanding of emotions and feelings — what they are, why they arise, and what to do to complete the process. Emotions allow us to be more intelligent, generous and empathic with others.

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