So you’ve had the week from hell. You didn’t win the contract you’d spent months preparing for, public transport has excelled itself in its failure to work properly, your partner is driving you up the wall, the boiler has broken again and you just cannot WAIT for Friday evening when you can finally relax with that extra large glass of something to take your mind off everything and relax into the weekend.

Whether you’re feeling angry, sad, hurt, stressed it can feel all consuming. Add to that being on the receiving end of someone else’s emotional angst, it can feel as though you have been trapped inside a washing machine of boxing gloves on fast spin.

Dealing with emotions

We tend to handle emotions in one of three ways:

  1. We embrace them and ride an uncomfortable and seemingly never ending roller-coaster
  2. We do anything we can to distract ourselves by drinking or eating to excess, indulge in retail therapy, become addicted to TV or the internet etc.
  3. We run away from them and become hardened and aloof.

There is a fourth, and extremely helpful, alternative:

To realise that emotions are NOT caused by outside events; they are caused by our thoughts.

Delusional thinking

When we are unaware that our thoughts create our reality, we become victims of our belief system and can only respond through our habits. This is the concept of severe delusion – that anything outside of us can create how we feel, be it our job, our partner, the weather or anything else we deem important. A simple example is the snow – those who love building snowmen are delighted when it snows, those who dislike anything other than sunshine are depressed by it. The snow itself doesn’t cause these reactions.

Emotions that we deem unpleasant are simply a result of our thoughts. Sadness only exists in our lives when we think sad thoughts. Emotions are not tangible objects lodged in our minds, they are no more real than the dreams we have in our sleep and only have the power to affect us when we are thinking about them. Fortunately, everyone suffers from this delusion, it is only the degree that varies from person to person. Incidentally, if you find yourself resisting this statement, just notice the next time you get angry when your train is delayed, it rains when you planned a BBQ….

A new paradigm

This understanding of psychological functioning can take us a while to comprehend, as it is a radical shift away from the traditional understanding that sees present behaviours as a product of past conditioning and genetics. Many of us will have been told by well intended and highly qualified psychologists and psychotherapists that our emotions are real and should be listened to. In all innocence, they have told us that if we feel hurt or angry, we need to work out what the cause is and what has happened in our past to make us feel like this.

Once we understand we are the creators of our own reality, this insight begins a process of transformation that means that little by little, we can drop thoughts of the past and see ourselves as whole.

It’s just an illusion

Let’s use an example to illustrate the illusionary nature of emotions:

You’ve done the weekly shop and are walking down a road with your earphones plugged in listening to your favourite playlist, when a man bumps into you so hard,  you drop your shopping. He offers no apology, pretends it hasn’t happened and carries on his way. Anger builds inside you.

You turn around sharply to show your displeasure and notice that the man has a white stick. Your anger turns to compassion as you realise your mistaken judgment. A woman stops to help you gather your shopping from the ground and you tell her how angry you had been until you realised the “poor fellow” was blind. She laughs and says, “don’t be fooled, that man is not blind, I’ve seen him do that every day for the past 10 years – it’s how he gets his kicks!”

You are outraged! How could anyone do that? You are tempted to run after him and let him have a piece of your mind. Then, an older man takes you aside and says “The woman you were speaking to is mentally ill, you mustn’t listen to her, that man really is blind”. Your outrage turns to confusion as you wonder what to make of this.

Blind man zoetnet

Photo by Zoetnet

All of a sudden, your best friend appears from nowhere and says “Smile!”. You burst out laughing as she explains that you’ve been part of an elaborate plot for her son’s university film project. Secretly, you’re quite chuffed that they chose you to be part of it. But equally you could have been really cross that she hadn’t asked your permission, embarrassed because she’d ‘made a fool of you’, depends how you think about it really…

Emotions are like a mirage – real and illusionary at the same time, depending on what angle you view them from. In this example, each emotion was understandable in its context, but they were a mirage created by the convergence of circumstance, perception and interpretation and were only ever one thought away from changing.

Your built-in delusion detector

Fortunately, just as the human body has a feedback system that lets us know our physical state (e.g. if we are cold, hungry etc.), we equally have a built in delusion-detector that lets us know the quality of our psychological functioning from moment to moment; our emotions. When we are functioning at a high level, our emotions are positive, we feel calm and have clarity. When we feel stressed, angry, irritated, sad, jealous or confused, these feelings are letting us know that our unhelpful, conditioned thought system has been activated and the information it is telling us shouldn’t be acted upon.

When we recognise that we are merely feeling our thoughts, they lose their power to distress us. All too often, we treat emotions as though they offer us some information about life – if we’re dissatisfied, there’s something wrong with our lives (or ourselves), if we’re angry with someone, they did something to make us feel this way. This simply isn’t true and our emotions are never a statement about the world around us, they are merely a barometer that measures the quality of our thinking. If we are feeling dark and low, this is a good indicator that our thinking should be viewed with suspicion, not taken too seriously and that our capacity for sound judgment is limited at this time. If, however, we are feeling light and positive, the barometer is telling us that we are viewing life with more perspective and wisdom and we are operating with clarity.

This too shall pass…

So, if you are feeling anger, resentment or disappointment towards someone at home or at work, know that, just  like other thoughts (e.g. thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch whilst I’m in a meeting), they too will pass. When we stop thinking these thoughts the emotion evaporates, in keeping with its illusionary nature.

Over to you

Remember this:

  1. Your emotions are only ever one thought away from changing.
  2. You don’t need to take your emotions too seriously – they provide information about the state of your mind, not the state of the world.
  3. Forgetting that we are thinking our thoughts is the easiest thing in the world! But remembering that we are the thinkers allows us to become truly responsive. Instead of reacting from our conditioned thought system, we begin to respond with our wisdom and common sense.

Could you, or someone you know, benefit from War to Peace®?

If you, or someone you know, could benefit from learning more about how to remain effective and untriggered at work and at home, consider attending a War to Peace® workshop. These workshops can be held in your workplace and away from it. Spaces for our next public course that anyone may attend can be booked here: