Letting Go of Emotion Myths

Adopting a Nonjudgmental Perspective on Your Feelings

Image Bank/Multi-Bits/Getty Images.

As discussed in a previous post, we have our feelings – and lots of ‘em – for a reason.

Unfortunately, we also have lots of erroneous beliefs about our emotions. If left unchallenged, these emotion myths can give rise to a whole other set of secondary emotions. If, for example, you feel anxious and then judge your anxiety as a sign of weakness, you might well wind up feeling angry at yourself or hopeless about your circumstance.

While the initial feeling may feel lousy, the judgment only further compounds or worsens your emotional experience.

To break free of those extra, unhelpful, secondary emotions, you’ll need first to identify and challenge your particular emotion myths.

Common Emotion Myths

Most of us are never formally taught about our feelings and so it makes sense that we’ve landed with some misinformation over the years.

Here are a few of the many myths about emotions:

  • It’s bad to feel something bad.
  • There is a right way to feel in every situation.
  • If I’m very emotional, it means I’m out of control.
  • Talking to other people about my emotions is a sign of weakness.
  • If someone else would feel differently in my shoes, then I shouldn’t feel this way.
  • I can’t handle uncomfortable feelings.
  • Others know how I feel so I don’t need to say it.
  • I will feel this way forever.

Adopting a Nonjudgmental Perspective

Once you’ve met your emotion myths, you might try a self-monitoring (i.e., tracking) exercise in which you record the prompting situation, the primary emotion, the emotion myth/judgment, and the secondary emotion (i.e., the emotional consequence of the myth).

You will quickly see just how detrimental these myths are!

Next, see if you can challenge the myth. This involves looking for evidence to the contrary of the belief. You might look for examples from your past experience that violate your assumption or consider what you’d tell a friend. For example, despite thinking that a given emotion will last forever, perhaps you can recall a time when a feeling of sadness dissipated over the course of day.

Are you someone who assumes that talking to other people about your emotions is a sign of weakness? Would you judge a friend who shared his or her feelings with you as weak?

The next step is to practice a nonjudgmental stance towards the primary emotion – the first feeling you – when it arises. When you become aware that an emotion myth has been activated, practice letting it go and give yourself permission to feel however you feel for however long the feeling lasts.

Tolerating Uncomfortable Feelings

Not judging your emotions does not mean seeing your feelings in a positive light. In other words, if you’re feeling anxious, you don’t have feel happy about it. Rather, you have to acknowledge and tolerate the anxiety (or other feeling).

Remember, all feelings ebb and flow like waves. Even if letting yourself feel your feeling makes it worse, this is temporary; the feeling will become less intense eventually, especially if you don’t fight it, judge it, or hold onto it tightly.

To let go of the struggle, accept and ride out the uncomfortable emotion, try a mindfulness exercise.

This can help increase your tolerance for the feelings which are bound to recur at some point and leave you better prepared when they do.   


Leahy RL, Tirch D, Napolitano L. (2011). Emotion Regulation in Psychotherapy: A Practitioner’s Guide. New York: The Guilford Press.  

Continue Reading