Feelings May Not Be Facts, But They Sure Are Information

In recovery circles, you often hear the admonition that “feelings aren’t facts.” But nobody explains just exactly what that means; it is usually stated as though its meaning is self-evident. But it’s not self-evident. In fact, unexplained, that statement can easily lead the listener into making a huge mistake: i.e. discounting ALL of their feelings, as though feelings were some kind of useless evolutionary hold-over. In fact, there are some in recovery who seem to believe that to be true. And they are wrong.

What that admonition really means is that relying solely on our feelings in making decisions can sometimes lead us astray. Feelings, all by themselves (i.e. without the counterbalancing effect of intellect), may be overpowering, or may stem from an unconscious historical wound that is no longer relevant to today’s situation/circumstances, or may be based on an incorrect understanding of the current situation. In such cases, our response to the situation may be outsized or inappropriate, and result in suffering additional negative consequences.

It pays handsome dividends to enlist the help of our intellect to help us interpret the “message” of our feelings. First and foremost, we can spend some time calming ourselves down. Restraint of pen and tongue is a first priority. That is so that we don’t say or do something we will soon regret, perhaps deeply. Then, we can use our intellect to help us decipher just where our feelings are stemming from. This is the crucial distinction. Our feelings are, in fact, telling us something; but just what that “something” is may take a bit of cognitive reflection to figure out.

If the feeling is anger, it may result from someone having crossed an important boundary. If that is the case, then the appropriate action is to set, or re-set, that boundary with the offending party. If that doesn’t work, then the appropriate action may be to alter the parameters of the relationship, or even end it entirely.  Sometimes, powerful anger may erupt because the current situation (unconsciously) touches upon, or reminds us of, a situation from our childhood that wounded us deeply. In this case, the anger is misplaced, and we could end up “dumping” on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

These are just two examples. You can probably think of others. In any case, the lesson here is that feelings, while they may not be “facts”, still contain a great deal of important information, which must be decoded properly to ensure an appropriate response. And this means integrating feelings/emotions with cognitive, intellectual probing and reflection. Ignoring your feelings is a huge mistake. So is letting them run the show. Bring your head and your heart together, and you have a powerful engine for personal growth.


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