Have you ever heard a myth? Myths are often used to explain why certain things are the way they are, and they tend to get told over and over again. Myths often combine some things that are true with other things that are not true.
Even if they are not completely true, many people believe myths for the following three reasons. Reason 1: We hear the same myth so often that eventually we start to believe that it must be true. Reason 2: Someone in authority teaches us the myth, so therefore we assume it must be correct. Reason 3: We agree with the explanation provided by the myth. So here’s the problem with myths: If we hear them enough, especially by someone in authority, and if we agree with their explanations, we tend to believe them—even if they are not true!
Maybe you have heard an ancient myth (such as how the zebra got its stripes) that now seems funny, silly, and even entertaining to modern people. Why? Because we know the explanation provided by the myth is simply not true—no matter how many times we hear the story, and no matter who tells it to us. Unfortunately, however, modern people still believe many modern myths for the three reasons mentioned about. And some of the greatest myths told in our times are about our emotions!
Trauma survivors in particular have often been taught many myths about their emotions. The messages we hear about our emotions often meet all the criteria for myths: They provide explanations, but fact is often mixed with fiction. And yet, we believe these myths anyway because (1) we here these messages over and over; (2) the messages often come from our own parents, coaches, or spouses; and (3) we actually agree with their explanations.
Here’s an example of an emotional myth. Let’s assume someone in authority (such as your parent) has told you over and over again for many years that the reason you struggle with emotions is because you have a bad attitude. Since the messenger was your mother or father, and since you heard the message so often, you started to believe it. But even more importantly, at some point you believed this myth because you agreed with the explanation: “The reason my emotions are so overwhelming is because I have a bad attitude!”
Did you notice that this is such a short, simple explanation? We love explanations that are short and simple! Unfortunately, this myth is simply not true. Perhaps you can remember many times when you had a good attitude, and your emotions were still overwhelming anyway. But since you already believed the myth, you did not even notice the evidence which contradicted it!
There are many myths which we can believe about emotions. I call this concept our “emotional mythology.” Unfortunately, believing myths about our emotions does not make them easier to deal with. On the contrary, emotional myths can make our emotions even more overwhelming!
Here are some common myths that many people believe about emotions:
- Myth 1: Emotions are random and have no purpose.
- Myth 2: Becoming emotional means losing control.
- Myth 3: Emotions are either correct or incorrect.
- Myth 4: Only weak people talk about their emotions.
- Myth 5: Negative emotions are caused by a bad attitude.
- Myth 6: Painful emotions are dangerous and destructive.
- Myth 7: The only way to deal with negative emotions is to ignore them.
- Myth 8: Other people know what my emotions should be better than I do.
Myths can also be gender specific. Here are two more:
- Myth 9: Girls should not express anger; they should be nice!
- Myth 10: Boys should not cry; they should be tough!
Let’s process a couple of these myths together to learn what is untrue about each of these messages. And then let’s identify some of your personal emotional myths!