To ‘cut to the chase’ it’s the unconscious mind that governs emotion. I like to think of the unconscious as a young puppy. Often wildly responding and out of control unless we keep a loving, but tight, reign. The limbic part of the brain (at the heart of the unconscious mind) deals with the ‘Freeze, Flight or Fight’ Response. (It’s in that order of response, by the way, and not ‘Fight or Fight’, as it’s so very often referred.). What happens with Emotional Reasoning is that we ‘reason’ that what we are believing is true without questioning its validity.
The very phrase, ‘Emotional Reasoning’ is actually an oxymoron. Emotions aren’t reasoned responses. They are just ‘played out’ by the Limbic System / unconscious mind. That’s why we ask ourselves after our response: “Why did I do that?” The neocortex part of the brain is seeking to reason the emotional response.
Further, what psychologists call cognitive dissonance abounds in Emotional Reasoning. We create reasons that justify our behaviours, and ignore, as well as delete, behaviours that don’t fit in with our Emotional Reasoning. Cognitive dissonance exists when conflicting beliefs and attitudes exist at the same time within someone. One of those beliefs must give in to the other one. Humans are remarkably adept at dropping one belief to allow another one to dominate. Practise it for long enough and we can justify any behavioural response, never questioning whether it is a helpful thing to do or not!
I feel guilty.
Guilt is a very powerful emotion. I believe that it is one of the most damaging and destructive emotions. Guilt grinds us down, freezes us from releasing change and creates excessive levels of stress with long-term damage to our bodies. Yes, guilt is that powerful.
We should challenge guilt at every opportunity. But how? An excellent website with some very practical advice can be read here. There are some very powerful questions that we can ask ourselves when feeling guilty. They involve asking what someone else might be feeling, thinking, saying and doing if they were in the situation that we find ourselves in. The very act of asking this question helps to calm the emotion (the unconscious/Limbic System) and allow our conscious mind to consider, reflect and enable a more desired response. For example, asking ourselves how our trusted friend, John might be feeling if he was in our situation may well give us a different perspective to our own. John might behave in a different way if he were in our situation and he might also say something more helpful in the long-term.
Acting this way (yes, it’s good to act) can help reduce the emotion, will help stop us saying or doing what isn’t helpful and will free us to live the life that we want to live.
I generally find that forgiveness helps too. It might be forgiving others for what happened; it might be forgiving yourself for what happened. Forgiveness frees us. It’s the opposite of guilt. Whereas guilt grinds us down, forgiveness frees us up. The more we are freed up, the more satisfied we will find our lives.
As a Christian, I believe that Christ has bought me freedom from guilt through His death and Resurrection. By believing in Him and not letting guilt have any power over me it’s helped me to look up and live the kind of life I want to lead.
Whatever your personal beliefs, getting rid of the power of guilt will make such a positive difference to your life. It will probably feel like a massive weight has been lifted off your shoulders. There are things that I wish I hadn’t done (regrets) but I refuse to let the guilt of those events take a hold. Those events are what I’ve done; those events are not who I am. I’m looking up and moving forward and no event or belief is going to hold me back or down.
How might you free yourself up today?
Challenge: I feel guilty.
Opportunity: If (someone you trust and respect) was in this situation what would they say/feel/think/do?
Reflection: emotions can mist. What evidence can I find to disagree with my judgement and how might I think and behave differently if I did?
Saying: Guilt grinds me down; forgiveness frees me up!