What Are Emotions & Attitudes?
We have found it useful to think of emotions as the flow and experience of feelings.
While feelings themselves may arise unbidden in our psyche, like clouds on the horizon, or may be triggered by an event or memory, the emotions that we experience are molded by our attitudes, judgments, memories, and expectations of those feelings.
The perception and expression of emotions can depend partly on personal attitudes or self-esteem. For example, people with poor self-esteem might focus on unpleasant feelings-fear, distrust, sorrow-perhaps not believing that they deserve to feel joy or happiness.
Emotions can also be influenced by other factors:
- Cultural traditions and beliefs can affect the way a group or an individual expresses emotions. There are some cultures in which it is considered "bad manners" to express emotions in a way that is considered healthy and appropriate in other cultures.
- Genetics (or, more specifically, brain and personality structure) can affect the emotional expression of an individual or family.
- A change in someone's emotions can be an indication of a problem with the brain. Brain tumors, strokes, Parkinson's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's, and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and thyroid disorders, can cause someone's emotional responses to change dramatically.
Attitudes are the perspectives people bring to any situation or experience, which can color their point of view. While attitudes are shaped by life experiences, genetics, and education, they are ultimately under conscious control. In other words, if people are aware of their attitudes, they can choose to change them.
There is a classic example of two people describing a glass of water. The person with an optimistic attitude about life will say that the glass is half full. The person with a more pessimistic attitude will see it as half empty. This demonstrates that perspectives of the same situation can vary greatly based on the person's attitude.
One part of attitude is one's self-esteem, which is a basic conception of one's own worthiness-self-love, self-respect, self-acceptance. According to McLean and Jahnke, "self-esteem is honoring a positive, compassionate view of oneself...people with low self-esteem identify with the negative messages they have received."
Self-esteem is not self-centeredness or egotism. On the contrary, people with positive self-esteem will seek to learn what they don't know. They can easily admit and learn from mistakes, acknowledge the talents of others, and accept praise with humility instead of vanity.
Healthy self-esteem allows people to explore what beliefs and attitudes they may wish to change, and gives them the ability to recognize that they are more than our beliefs and attitudes. This frees people to take risks and choose growth. Owning this power of control and using it wisely is a healing experience.