Negative emotions do not just arise within you. Your individual world is made up of a series of events. Some of them are positive, some of them are negative and some of them have nothing to do with you, even though you may think they do. You interpret these events through a series of thoughts and an internal dialogue (Burns, The Feeling Good Handbook, 1999).
You may look at an event and think, “Aha, I know what this means.” Then you talk to yourself inside your head. And, depending on what you say to yourself, your mood changes based on your interpretation of that event and the emotions that came from that interpretation. You may think, “Oh-oh, this is going to be bad. It’s real bad.” Based on your interpretation, you start to feel sad or angry and experience what is called a negative emotional state. These emotions are often the cue for an addicted person to use alcohol or drugs to feel better or to try to feel nothing.
You may think, “Wow, this is great that this happened.” Then you feel happiness and you experience what is called a positive emotional state. Feelings are always created by thoughts. First you experience the event, then the thoughts or interpretation of the event, and finally the positive or negative feelings. Your emotions come entirely from the way you look at or interpret things.
Before you can experience any event, you have to process it and assign some meaning (Burns, The Feeling Good Handbook, 1999). For example, you get a job interview. Immediately a series of thoughts run through your mind interpreting the event of being called for an interview. “I’m probably the last on the list,” or “They just need to make it look good for someone they have already decided to hire.” Negative thoughts or interpretations will lead to negative emotional states such as anger, depression, resentment or anxiety. Your interpretation of the event has changed how you feel and how you will behave when you go to the interview. Your emotions and subsequent behaviors are driven by your interpretation of the events in your life (Burns, The Feeling Good Handbook, 1999).
Moods do not arrive independently of our interpretation of the events in our lives (Burns, Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy, 1999). The wonderful thing is, just by recognizing this fact you can take action to become more aware of your thoughts. You can learn the skills to reduce the frequency of negative emotions and to manage your negative emotions without resorting to drinking or using.