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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

Our Biggest Assumption About Feelings IS WRONG!


  1. Have you ever been at a happy event but felt miserable?

  2. Have you ever been at what others would say is a sad or unhappy event and felt pretty good?

If, like most people, you answered yes to either these, then it means our assumption that our emotions are directed by things outside of us is wrong!

“He made me so mad!”

“I am devastated! How could she do this to me?!”

“He’s pretty happy these days. He got that promotion you know.”

Our culture uses language that constantly implies


What it will stir up IN US, will depend on our past experience , on our survival maps/ filters.

LET’S PLAY A GAME! Imagine these scenarios…

  1. Scenario 1: Your Mom/ Dad was an abusive alcoholic -> now you see your partner get drunk

  2. Scenario 2: Your only experience with alcohol is that and your friends get goofy when they are drunk, it is harmless fun -> now you see your partner get drunk

Understandably, depending on which of those two different pasts we have, it changes how we experience the same objective reality, our partner being drunk

Let’s do a few more, just to be clear. Imagine…

  1. You were bullied at school -> now a group of people are talking in a group as you approach and are looking at you

  2. You were quite popular at school -> now a group of people are talking in a group as you approach and are looking at you

  1. Your father (who you were close with) had a heart attack and died while you were at Disney -> you just won a trip there

Last one, imagine…

  1. You are in the middle of a very messy divorce -> you are at a friend’s wedding

  2. You just celebrated your 10 year wedding anniversary and you have never been happier with your partner -> you are at a friend’s wedding

Now let’s do one that illustrates that our reaction is not just in our thoughts, it is in our bodies too, imagine…

  1. Cheesecake is your favourite dessert ->

  1. You have never tasted cheesecake before -> someone gives you a piece

  2. Just the thought of eating our favourite dessert, or seeing it, triggers us to make more saliva in our mouths and release digestive enzymes. This happens unconsciously and automatically. This process does NOT happen when we see unfamiliar food, and a different physical response happens when we see unsavory food. 

  3. When we have automatic emotional reactions to situations, they also trigger physical responses that involve chemicals and hormones in the body.

  1. When we get triggered to past negative or scary interactions,

  1. Which system is activated, Sympathetic vs Para-sympathetic, changes what we pay attention to, what thoughts we have, which in turn influence our emotions. (See Old Brain, New Brain and Mindfulness parts 1, part 2, and part 3 for more information about this)

Why Does This Matter?   There is Good News, and Bad News

Bad News – If our feelings come from connections we have to our own past, and our survival maps, then we can’t keep blaming things outside of us for how we feel and act like we are victim of our circumstance. In fancy language, that is called having an “External Locus of Control”.

Internal.Locus of Control


With some AWARENESS, INTENTION and WILLINGNESS to experience some of those sticky feelings in order to release them, we can change our filters over time. We can change how we respond when our survival maps get triggered.

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