Many people dream of never feeling anxious, angry, jealous, or depressed again. They long for lasting happiness or at least a constant contentment. Sadly, this dream can’t come true. The main reason is that humans are wired to get upset, more precisely humans are wired to upset themselves. Already in babies it can be obeserved that they have a preference for pleasant experiences and try to avoid unpleasant ones as much as possible. As adults, we try our best to stay in comfortable situations and keep away from discomfort. But throughout our lives we’re stuck in a continuous cycle of pleasant and unpleasant circumstances. The big question is, how come some people handle life’s ups and downs better than others? And what can those do about it who are struggling with daily problems or their own nature?


Feelings Feelings Feelings

Feelings are everywhere, they are sung about in songs, portrayed in dramas, and invoked in sports. They’re a part of every aspect of human life. While “love” might be the most common theme in songs, artists also sing about all the other emotions—fear, hate, envy, disappointment, anger, despair. In literature, especially in fiction, stories often revolve around the wide range of human emotions. For the past 250 years, romantic literature has focused on “feelings, passion, individuality, and the tormented soul”. Movies, whether from Hollywood or Bollywood, switch between sentimental sweetness and intense violence. Without emotions, movies would just be documentaries – and even in documentaries, directors try to avoid one thing: boredom.

In sports, winning is celebrated with passion— A mix of dedication, ecstasy, and joy. Losing, on the other hand, brings frustration and sadness, Along with anger and resentment. The typical question sports journalists ask athletes remains the same: “How do you feel now, after winning/losing?”


Emotions are always changing

In love, we soar to “cloud nine”, only to crash down into the valley of tears. New experiences—like a job or project—start off exciting, but over time often can lead to frustration and boredom. Weddings and the birth of children are seen as moments of pure happiness, but later on, spouses and kids can become sources of frustration.

When people think about what they want from life Or how they want to feel when they look back on their lives, most just want to be happy and content. Some want inner peace, to be calm and balanced, While others want to feel serene and composed— Or maybe all of these things together?


Feelings are what makes life flavorful

It’s clear that feelings play a big role in people’s lives. Many say that feelings are the “spice of life” and see living without them as a nightmare. The tricky part is, feelings are always changing. Many people struggle with their emotional ups and downs because they often feel overwhelmed by their own feelings, leaving them in a helpless state. They might go from being ecstatically happy to deeply sad, and many just want to get off this emotional rollercoaster and regain control over their emotions. The term “emotional life” suggests that many believe their feelings have a life of their own. If that were true, controlling our emotions would be impossible, and we’d only be at the mercy of this rollercoaster.


Emotions can be managed

But here’s the good news: you can learn to manage your feelings. To start, you need to understand them. Questions like: What exactly are feelings? How do they come about, and how are they different from thoughts or physical sensations? What separates dissatisfaction from anger, or love from hatred? And what’s the difference between feeling sad and feeling depressed, feeling pity versus feeling slighted, or feeling concern versus feeling afraid? Most people probably haven’t thought much about these differences or why it’s important to know about them?


Feelings take center stage

There are many approaches of therapy and coaching. In Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) there’s a simple theory about feelings and where they come from: Thoughts create feelings.

Albert Ellis first came up with this idea after reading texts of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, and Milenko Vlajkov expanded on it in his handbook “Rational-Emotive & Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (2017). Not everyone agrees with this theory; some still think it’s the other way around, that feelings are the origin of our thoughts and behavior.

In REBT we start by separating bodily sensations from feelings. For example, cold feet are a sensation, while feeling annoyed about them is a feeling. Similarly, a racing heart is a sensation, while the fear of a heart attack is a feeling. And stomachaches are sensations, while those “butterflies in the stomach” we feel when in love are feelings.


Shouting and tension or satisfaction and relaxation

Another important fact is that humans, especially newborn babies, initially show an undifferentiated agitation in reaction to all stimuli from the moment of their birth. This agitation is governed by the limbic system beneath the cerebral cortex. After a few hours (or days), this agitation begins to differentiate into “unpleasant” and “pleasant” reactions. Infants then respond to unpleasant life situations (like hunger, thirst, heat, cold, stomach pains, or a full diaper – often bodily sensations and external stimuli) with crying, and to pleasant life situations (such as being stroked, breastfed, cuddled, or having a fresh diaper – also often bodily sensations) with a satisfied, calm, sometimes even radiant expression. Thus, even a few days old infants perceive their surroundings and react automatically with satisfaction, calmness, or even with crying, tension, or stiffness.


Feelings develop over time

It’s important to note that shortly after birth, we perceive situations primarily through our senses and then interpret them as pleasant or unpleasant. Small children then exhibit an automatic, innate response to these situations – either crying or contentment, tension or relaxation. Only later in life do children, teenagers, and adults “evaluate” these situations further through thinking, considering them as “positive” or “negative,” “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong.” These evaluations or thoughts then give rise to feelings – whether joy, happiness, contentment, or anger, jealousy, and fear (to name just a few).


  • Perception of a sensory sensation ->
    • Automatic response: 1. undifferentiated  agitation leads to 2. differentiation into pleasant vs unpleasant ->
      • Evalutation through thinking: (positiv vs. negativ; good vs. bad; right vs. wrong; etc.) ->
        • Emotional Reaction. (harmful/blocking vs. useful)

With the consideration of this chain, the most important premise – “The First Insight” – (of REBT) can now be explained and understood even better and more easily:



The cause of human suffering does not lie in the things themselves, but in the way people evaluate, judge, or think about these things after perceiving them with their sensory organs.

In REBT this is also called the ABC-Modell of Emotions

  • A = Adversity/ Activating Problem (e.g. a traffic jam on the highway)
  • B = Belief (“oh god, not again traffic!! It’s unbearable, I can’t take it anymore!!”)
  • C = Consequence = Emotional and Behavioral Reaction (e.g. anger or rage and impulsive behavior)

Sometimes it’s enough to be aware of this “First Insight,” that “A” (such as a traffic jam on the highway) doesn’t directly cause “C” (like feeling angry about the traffic jam), to bring about a change in emotional state and lead to the “Second Insight.” This “Second Insight” of REBT is:


If in an equal situation one wishes to feel less bad (the “C”), they don’t need to change the entire world, circumstances, things, or other people (the “A”), but rather their own thinking – thus, the “B.”
“I wish there were no traffic jam. But since I am clearly stuck in one now, it unfortunately exists. My shouting won’t help because I cannot change the situation even by shouting.”
This way of thinking expresses acceptance of the inevitable and changes one’s emotional state, as in this example, from anger to a useful dissatisfaction.


For this to succeed, it is helpful to make yourself aware of some mental contents:

1. What do you think about what you have perceived?
2. How do you feel while thinking this way?
3. How can you assess what you have thought? (Rational thoughts are realistic, logical, actionable, and beneficial – thus functional. Irrational thoughts are unrealistic, illogical, unattainable, and harmful – thus dysfunctional.)
4. What would you need to think instead of the dysfunctional thought to avoid blocking yourself and to stay empowered and realistic?


At this point the Third Insight can be introduced and understood:

Anyone who wants to never feel blocked by their emotions must persistently and consistently engage with their own thoughts and solidify the new, rational way of thinking through “practice and repetition” so that it intensely connects with the perceived reality. Only then is it possible for the rational way of thinking to “automatically kick in” in future critical situations.


In order to understand and control one’s emotions, it is first important to make the following distinction:

There are emotions for both pleasant and unpleasant life situations.

In a second step, one recognizes that there are obviously helpful and blocking emotional reactions to pleasant or unpleasant life situations (at least, this is claimed under point 4 of the enumeration mentioned above).

Understanding this is the next important step in bringing one’s emotional life under control. It is good to know that within the framework of “Cognitive Therapy” according to Aaron Beck, which shares many similarities with Rational Emotive & Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (RE & CBT) by A. Ellis, there is no clear boundary between useful and blocking emotions. A. Beck and other therapists working within the scope of “Cognitive Therapy” believe that there is a gradual transition between useful and blocking emotions. This stands in stark contrast to A. Ellis and especially M. Vlajkov. Both of whom are of the opinion that this gradual transition does not exist. In their view, emotions can clearly be distinguished as useful or blocking. This distinction is very important as it determines the nature of the therapeutic approach.

One goal of “Cognitive Therapy” (according to A. Beck) is to reduce the intensity of unpleasant emotions, regardless of whether they are useful or blocking emotions. Within the framework of Cognitive Therapy, for example, “great anger” may be transformed into “little anger” or “deep sadness” into “less deep sadness”. A. Ellis makes a strict classification regarding emotions: He distinguishes between useful feelings, which can be both pleasant and unpleasant, and blocking feelings, to which, in his opinion, only unpleasant feelings belong.


M. Vlajkov includes pleasant feelings among blocking emotions if they have a blocking effect on the individual. When feelings have this blocking effect, we refer to them as blockage of efficiency. These efficiency blockages prevent us from realizing our talents and strengths and limit our success. For example, individuals who are blocked by fear, anger, rage, jealousy, hurt, or depression act “below their potential” and do not utilize their potentials, especially in crucial moments. As explained in more detail below, infatuation, happiness, or ecstasy can paradoxically also have a blocking effect on us humans.


For someone to control and manage their emotions, they must first expose their unhealthy feelings and then replace them with the appropriate healthy ones. Exposing an unhealthy feeling can be done by identifying the thought responsible for the emergence of the unhealthy feeling. In RE & CBT, it is assumed that changing one’s way of thinking automatically leads to a change in feeling. For example, if a desire (“I wish for a bike!”) is not fulfilled, a person may feel sad or disappointed. If a demand (“I must get a bike!”) is not met, the person is likely to feel angry or upset. This distinction of feelings, as mentioned in the example, between sadness (= healthy) and anger (= unhealthy), is a central aspect of RE & CBT and its unique feature.