Many times we make decisions for our lives based on our feelings. For example, we decide we won’t go for the job promotion because we are feeling too afraid or intimidated. We should remember that feelings aren’t facts. We need to allow ourselves to feel the fear associated with putting ourselves out there, but at the same time feel the excitement of the possibilities of what our life could look like if we were to get the new job.
To help differentiate this in our minds, we should use statements such as, “I feel angry” not “I am angry.” “I feel sad” not “I am sad.” This may seem like a small difference but I believe it creates a drastic change in the way we think. Similarly with a child, I believe we should say, “You did a naughty thing” not “You are a naughty boy.” In this manner we do not label a child in any way, but rather teach them that certain behaviors are not desirable.
Feelings give us information about certain situations, and they can drive us into action, or stop us in our tracks, but no matter how powerful they are, they are not facts. We are emotional beings and have many positive and negative feelings in any given day. The important thing is to differentiate between the feelings that are true and the feelings we are generating in our imagination.
For example, how many times have you interpreted a look from someone as a reflection of you. Your husband sighs and you immediately think he is angry at you. Many times, these interpretations are total fiction and have no basis for reality. Maybe he is having a bad day. Maybe he is thinking of something that happened at work. There are limitless possibilities of why he made that sound and only one has something to do with you.
The best thing to do when you are feeling like something isn’t right is to give yourself a reality check. Don’t let it fester in your mind until it becomes a bigger problem than it needs to be. Never ignore your feelings. Try and figure out why you are feeling a certain way. What is causing these feelings to be present in your mind? If the reason is something someone else said or did, then communicate with the other person. Be careful of your volume and tone of voice. Look for facts and be open to see how it’s possible that your feelings may not be accurate.
It is important to remember that we can feel anger toward someone and still love them. We can feel afraid of new experiences, yet move forward through them. We can feel sad and still be sure that we will feel happy again some day.
When we treat feelings as facts, we inadvertently look for facts to back up those feelings. In a previous experiment, ROTC cadets and peace activists were given the same report on nuclear missile testing mishaps and were then asked if our nuclear arsenal was safer or more dangerous than they previously thought. Perhaps not surprisingly, the cadets became more confident of our nuclear safeguards and the peace activists became less confident. They all read the same report, but their feelings led them to focus on the facts they wanted to find. The same can be true of today’s political climate in our country.
Truth is, sometimes you can feel like the worst person in the world and other times you feel benevolent. Sometimes you can feel like you’re not worth anything and other times like you are on top of the world. This is the human condition. Feelings and emotions are core to our humanity. When we make sure our facts are correct and combine them appropriately with our feelings, our actions can help magnificent things happen professionally, personally, and even socially. But when we act on feelings alone, as if they are facts, we have only half of what we need to build good lives and strong societies.