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*Feelings Aren’t Always Truth

aka: You Should Trust Your Feelings–Except When You Shouldn’t

What is life? An illusion, a shadow, a story. And the greatest good is little enough: for all life is a dream, and dreams themselves are only dreams.
Sometimes, truth gets distorted.

Saturday, I wrote about the critical issue of trusting yourself.  And in the title, I included an asterisk.  Here’s what I said after the asterisk:

Trusting yourself is important. At the same time, it is important to understand that sometimes our thoughts and feelings may be giving us inaccurate information.  In the next few posts, we’ll look at when it is useful to challenge thoughts or feelings.  Then we’ll explore some tools to help you be in better touch with yourself.

As promised, today’s post is going to look at the issue of feelings.  My clients are very familiar with the fact that I tend to encourage them to think about multiple sides of an issue.  So, while I do tell people that it is usually important to listen to and trust feelings, that is just one side of the picture.

Because sometimes, our feelings just aren’t telling us the truth.

Feelings are convincing.  They get the benefit of being able to activate all kinds of physical responses in our body, so when we feel something, we feel it on multiple levels.

But just because they are convincing, doesn’t mean they are telling us accurate things.

Here are a few examples of feelings being misleading:

  • Anyone who has ever had a panic attack can tell you that those feelings are intense, and seem very real.  And generally, panic attacks are not in response to any clear danger.  They just appear to be.
  • If you have been depressed, you are familiar with the feeling of hopelessness as you think about the future.  It doesn’t feel like anything you do will make a difference.  This isn’t true at all, but it sure seems convincing while you’re feeling it.
  • Have you ever gotten angry about something, only to realize that you didn’t have the correct information?  Your heart rate is still up, and it will take your body a while to recognize that the anger doesn’t have a reason–it’s not quite the truth.

What does this mean then?  Well, it means that two apparently contradictory things are true at the exact same time (that happens a lot in life).

True Thing #1: Feelings can be an important source of information about you, your experiences, and how you are being affected by the world.

True Thing #2: Feelings sometimes come up that are a result of incorrect information, old patterns, trauma, or mental health struggle.  These feelings may not be giving you accurate information.

So, an important skill to develop as you learn to know, trust, and nurture yourself is the ability to assess your feelings to see whether they fall into the category of accurate or inaccurate information.  Sometimes you can do this just by taking a step back from the feelings and asking yourself what evidence there is to support that feeling.  Sometimes, that’s too overwhelming.  One initial tool you might use to begin to sort out whether you are dealing with true feelings or not is to keep a feeling journal.  Try to track strong emotions throughout your day, and then return to the list when you’ve had time to gather more information–sometimes it’s easier to tell what category a feeling falls in once you’ve gotten some distance from it.

Do you have a distinct memory of an “untrue” feeling?  How did you cope with it?

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