Did you ever have the experience of responding to something emotionally and then feeling like you are a bad person for having that response? For example, you might be in a class where your friend gets a better grade than you get and you feel jealous of that. But that is not the end of it. Then you feel like you are a bad person for feeling jealous because wouldn’t a good person be happy if their friend got a good grade? Then of course you begin to ignore the feelings you don’t want to have and you try to claim the feelings you do want to have. And after a while, you don’t even know you have those other, unwanted feelings. They just bury themselves and occasionally cause weird exchanges between you and other people. You might not let yourself know you are jealous, but you might joke with your friend in a biting way. You both laugh, your friend feels a little bad, but doesn’t say anything and the whole experience is forgotten. Sort of. Since we know our brains don’t really forget anything. It just becomes an unconscious association that we are not aware is there but which affects our feelings about our friends and ourselves.
Whew. Sounds grim. And most of the time we don’t even know this process is happening. It’s so fast, we are denying our unattractive feelings and going with what we hope to be. And we don’t even see this happen. But we might find some relationships feel less carefree than we want them to feel. Or we might have stress or physical symptoms that are unexplained.
The real issue is that we are all wired with the full set of human emotions: the ones we want and the ones we don’t want. Some researchers think there are seven human emotions: anger, fear, disgust, contempt, joy, surprise and sadness. But really, there are a huge number of variations and combinations of these. And we have them all in our human DNA.
The real creation of ourselves comes not in cutting off human emotions, but in accepting them, and ourselves and at the same time taking responsibility for them. We each have a unique history and way of looking at the world and that leads us to have very individual sets of ideals for our lives. We can integrate whatever emotional responses or impulses we may have in response to our experience while, at the same time, recognizing when those responses do not match up with the way we want to be in the world. Our choices are the reflective outcome of embracing who we are and identifying who we want to be. It is our choices that create us as human beings in an ongoing way, not the traces of our personal history.