I downloaded “Introduction to Psychoanalysis.” by Freud but never managed to get through it. The language is difficult and it was hard to remain invested in his teachings, given the information is from the early 1900s and psychology has advanced significantly since then.
Instead I’ve been delving deeper into Jungian psychology. In particular, reading about the cognitive functions. There are eight cognitive functions which represent how people observe the world – each person uses four of the eight functions in order to respond to things. These four functions are used in a dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior order. I used to be a little skeptical of the function stacks because it seemed inflexible – but the more I read about them in relation to myself, the more valuable the information becomes.
In any case, I chanced upon an article while reading about Jungian function. This isn’t solely limited to any psychological type, and can be applicable for everyone.
I really wish I could print off this article and stick it to my forehead. There are lots of nuggets of wisdom in here that I desperately want to embed in my conscience but it’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment.
Be Aware of Your True Motive/Intention
You might feel that a situation is not unfolding in the way you want but this is not necessarily a “bad” thing. People get emotionally invested in wanting reality to be a certain way or to be “right” in the face of disagreement. Because of this emotional investment in your own cognitive framework, you may fail to realize that reality is fine as it is. There are times when things will go against your expectations because you cannot predict and control everything that happens, but it might open up new vistas for exploration. There are times when people disagree because they have different beliefs and values, but it might be a chance to improve the relationship by deepening mutual understanding of differences. There are times when a “mistake” must be made because it is necessary for learning and progress. In other words, you get to choose how to interpret such situations.
When you get frustrated, you start to believe that the world is “against you” when in fact the world is just chugging along as it always has. Therefore, frustration is not an excuse to “control” or “act out” because frustration is simply an indication that your cognitive framework is reacting to something. When you are driven by underlying emotions to control or act out, you are trying to shape the world to match your cognitive framework, but this can be detrimental because your true intention is not to deal with reality as it actually exists. Not dealing with reality means not adapting well, and not adapting well means opening yourself up to further emotional turmoil and perhaps making problems worse.
At these moments, it is important to take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Why am I so invested in what other people do?” or “Why am I so invested in this situation?” If you constantly ask yourself this, you will be able to identify your frustration as it begins and prevent it from becoming something more intense. Most of the time, if we answer this question honestly, we discover that we are only invested because we need to be “right”, since being right preserves internal stability and prevents inner conflict. In other words, your real motive was self-centered and not really for the benefit of the situation.
There are times when being right is important because of the outcome, however, most of these situations still do not warrant uncontrolled emotional responses. A neutral-sounding correction or comment would oftentimes suffice rather than becoming anxious, controlling, aggressive, or laying into people for their mistakes. There is a difference between being right about something versus wanting everyone to acknowledge or affirm that you are right – one actually benefits the situation whereas the other only benefits your ego. Once you realize this, your frustration will seem misplaced.
The Rightful Place of Emotions
Issues like depression or anxiety are often the end of a long chain of feelings and emotions sparked by an initial sense of powerlessness or a feeling of having no control over life, that is, longer term depression and anxiety are the result of emotions that have gone ignored or brushed aside for much too long.
There are two important issues to consider: 1) interpreting situations to be much more negative than they actually are, and 2) interpreting oneself as unable to handle or cope with situations. It is important to remember that the universe is under no obligation to adjust itself to your feelings, needs, and desires. The way that you interpret events is what causes your emotions, not what is “out there”. Thus, what you need to do is figure out if there are other, equally valid interpretations that you are missing because you are too much in the grip of your negative emotions.
For example, maybe you got dumped by someone you love or rejected from a prospective job after a decent interview. These situations feel horrible and rightfully so because they pierce through the heart of your sense of competence. However, if you can broaden your perspective of the situation, you will start to see past those initial feelings of hurt or disappointment rather than wallowing or indulging in them in perpetuity. Being dumped by someone, in fact, means that the two of you were not right for each other, regardless of what you want to believe. Choosing to ignore that fact will only prolong your suffering so, instead, you can make the choice to look at it as an opportunity to find someone who is more fit for you, a chance to save time by not being in a relationship that blinds you to other opportunities for greater happiness. If you didn’t get that job, then it simply wasn’t meant to be because they thought (having more knowledge of the place) that you and the organization weren’t quite the right fit for reasons that might not be personal at all. Choosing to ignore that fact and taking it as a personal rejection will only prolong your suffering so, instead, choose to look at it from the other side of not having to be stuck in a job that was not the right fit.
You should never deny, resist, forget, or repress your feelings and emotions because that only makes them worse. Take time to acknowledge them, accept them as a part of you, let them play out naturally without judgment or shame or overthinking, and listen to what they are telling you. Feelings and emotions are simple psychological messages, so they do not and should not define who you are. Negative emotions tell you that something is wrong, not that something is inherently wrong with you. If you think a negative emotion tells you something is wrong, then you work to figure out what is wrong, learn the proper lesson, and solve the problem appropriately. If you think that a negative emotion tells you that something is inherently wrong with you, that you are defective and therefore undeserving, then the existence of that emotion is a constant reminder of your “imperfection”, which you cannot accept and then try to repress.
Feelings of sadness, disappointment, depression, anxiety, or grief tell you that life is not going in the direction you like. Heed that message and change accordingly, in a fully conscious rather than reactive/impulsive way. Pain is unavoidable, however, suffering is a choice that stems from an unwillingness to face the facts of your situation. Facts are morally and emotionally neutral. When you are drowning in feelings and emotions because you believe that they define your existence, you can only see a situation one particular way, a way that you cannot and will not accept. Sometimes it is necessary to say to yourself, “Yes, I am feeling horrible at the moment but perhaps there is another way to look at this situation other than the most negative way.” The feelings and emotions merely tell you, “I don’t like these facts,” but that should not stop you from accepting and confronting those facts and taking action to deal with them appropriately. When disappointing things happen, you should be asking yourself, “What’s my strategy for dealing with this?” What will you DO to overcome this situation?
Doing these things will ameliorate negative feelings and emotions because of improving your sense of confidence, self-worth, and usefulness – your emotional state will improve when you believe that you have what it takes to cope well with situations. Do not misinterpret negative emotions as an inherent sign of personal incompetence but, rather, acknowledge them and channel them into positive action so that you can keep up the motivation to move forward in life.
“Negative emotions tell you that something is wrong, not that something is inherently wrong with you.”
A lot of the time, because I’m unable to deal with the idea that something is wrong with me, I go into a negative feedback loop in which I don’t deal with the negative emotion and I try to focus my attention on a different endeavor – hoping that it will go away in time on its own. But going to the gym 5 days a week, while a good feat on its own, doesn’t deal with my inadequacies about being overwhelmed at work. A lot of the time I try to control my environment – but that doesn’t make up for the lack of inner control.
Letting go is a form of discipline for me because it is not easy. Just accepting things for how they are. Not trying to change things. Not trying to improve things. Being open to all outcomes.
Of course, I need to also let go of my ego or this ‘image’ that I try to attain. This is the biggest obstacle, but ultimately the most important one. If I hold myself too strictly to an idea, I sacrifice who I truly am.