Psychological Self-Help

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It will be helpful if you recognize how many decisions you have
made in the process of becoming emotional or upset. We have already
discussed how feelings develop in great detail in chapters 5, 6, 7 and
8. Also chapter 12 reviews how emotions develop and explains how we
understand (make sense out of) our own internal emotional reactions
by observing the circumstances we are in, i.e. "I am mad because you
seem to be neglecting me" or "I am scared (or excited) in front of a
large audience." Building on this cognitive approach, David Johnson
(1981) says several things must happen--your decisions--before
feelings get communicated: (1) we must perceive what is going on,
(2) we interpret, rightly or wrongly, the situation (what is motivating
the other person's actions, are those causes good or bad?), (3) we use
our view of the situation--our interpretation of why the other person
did whatever he/she did--to decide exactly what it is we are feeling,
(4) our feelings prompt us to take some kind of action, but (5) our
intentions (to hurt, to avoid, to help, etc.) determine how our feelings
actually get expressed or handled. (6) Finally, as discussed in chapter
12, we may decide to conceal our feelings, deny them, repress them,
convert them into physical symptoms, blame others and demand that
others change, or express them inappropriately or appropriately, as in
self-disclosure or "I" statements. Or, of course, if we don't like our
feelings, we can try to change them (see chapters 12 and 14). There
are lots of places in this getting-upset process where we alone are
responsible for the choices we make (although we are often tempted
to blame someone else for upsetting us). 
In short, from the cognitive viewpoint, how we handle our feelings
is based on our perceptions, our attributions, our understanding of
what we are feeling, and our intentions. Thus, as humanistic-
existentialistic therapists have also contended for a long time, we are
responsible for our feelings, because we have chosen, through each of
5 or 6 steps, to feel whatever we feel (no matter how miserable), so
we must "own" our feelings. In short, no one can make us feel any
way; we decide. (Note: Freudians, learning theorists, sociobiologists,
drug-oriented psychiatrists, physiologists with interests in hormones,
genes and neurotransmitters, and many others may not agree with
this highly conscious, cognitive explanation of emotions.) 
Regardless of the etiology of feelings, suppressing or denying our
feelings may lead to several problems: (1) increased irritability and
conflicts with others, (2) difficulty resolving interpersonal problems
(being "logical" doesn't mean ignoring feelings, but dealing with
them), (3) distorted perception and blind spots (like seeing only the
bad parts of a person we are mad at) in a relationship, and (4) other
people may suspect we have feelings and ask us to be honest with
them (which is hard to do if we are being dishonest with ourselves--or
unaware). These are good reasons for expressing our feelings in a
tactful, constructive manner. "I" statements serve this purpose. 
"I" statements do not judge, blame, threaten, put down or try to
control others; they simply report how you feel, which is rarely
challengeable by anyone else. When you make an "I" statement, you
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