It is not the situations, but the interpretations we make of them that determine our emotions. The philosopher Epictetus already stated it at the beginning of our era: “What troubles men is not things, but the opinions they hold about them.”

Contemporary science, however, shapes the philosophy of antiquity. In recent years, there has been a psychological theory known as cognitive assessment, which reflects the emotions we experience based on our assessments of the situations we encounter. It was developed by psychology professor Klaus Scherer at the University of Geneva.

The assertion that our emotions depend on our personal evaluations is in conflict with the strong popular belief that others or the outside world are the cause of our emotions. Don’t they say “you upset me”, “you hurt me”, “I’m angry because of my boss” or “I’m sad because you were mean”? This is a way of making others responsible for our feelings (and therefore making them feel guilty). In other words, we tend to blame others rather than look inside ourselves.

IT IS OUR THOUGHTS THAT DETERMINE OUR EMOTIONS

what causes an emotion is our thoughts about the external trigger
What causes an emotion is our thoughts about the external trigger

However, the cause of the emotion is often to be found within oneself, while the trigger is often external.

The trigger is a particular event (or a thought, a memory…), and the real cause for emotion is our personal way of interpreting, of giving meaning to the event in relation to our basic needs.

Let’s take an example: I go to great lengths to produce a report requested by my leader. The latter simply takes a quick look at it and files it on a pile of other files. I feel frustration. The trigger for this emotion is undoubtedly the attitude of the leader. But the cause of my frustration is my assessment of the situation: I expected to be congratulated for the quality of my work, which did not happen.

In this context, my need for recognition is not satisfied. The cause of the emotion is therefore very internal: my way of looking at the leader’s attitude. In fact, the same trigger could give rise to a completely different emotion: if I had botched this report, I would be relieved if my boss did not dwell on it, which would satisfy my need for security this time (not to risk losing my job).

This distinction between cause and trigger is essential for those who want to learn how to manage their emotions. Indeed, many people feel that they are experiencing their emotions. In other words, they attribute the cause to external events, thus losing all power over them. These people then only react passively to events.

WE DO NOT PAASIVELY EXPERIENCE OUR EMOTIONS, WE CONTRIBUTE TO THEM

On the contrary, by reclaiming the cause of their feelings and nurturing their interpretations, one could tame his emotions. One would realize that he has the choice to act rather than simply react. It is one of the bases of what is called emotional intelligence, but also cognitive therapies.

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