Can We Really Trust Our Emotions?

Right now, there are no decisions to be made – I’m just feeling feelings that need to be felt.  I always think I’m supposed to DO something about it, when I am lost IN my feelings.  Actually, I guess I usually feel like that when I’m talking with friends and family about their feelings, too – like feelings are something to be fixed, and I can FIX it for them if I just ask the right question or punch the right person in the face.

In my work, aka my more sane and professional moments, I advise other people to get the message from their feelings so they can move on.  What is the best way to do that, though? Sometimes that advice feels useless because feelings can be confusing and messy. Often our emotions are not communicating with us clearly – or worse yet, sometimes they are actually lying to us.  

When Our Feelings Lead Us Astray

As much as I hate to admit it, my feelings lie a lot. When I forget that, I can get into real trouble. For instance my feelings might tell me that I have MORE than enough money to buy that scarf…but my really truthful bank account may not agree with my feelings.

I don’t think I am alone in this.  As a rule, human emotions are not always an accurate representation of reality, but that doesn’t mean our feelings aren’t REAL. They are very real and they reflect thoughts and our prevailing perception and perspective about things.  In that context, the advice to get the message from our feelings is good advice, but it is only the first part of a process.

In order to get the true message from our feelings and be able to do something useful with that message, we need to register and possibly record exactly how we are feeling and what we are thinking.  Then, later, we need to measure those thoughts and feelings against whatever factual data we can gather. When the feelings are the strongest and the most in charge is NOT the time to expect ourselves to act in our own best interests.

During the biggest emotional storms, stay inside, batten down the hatches, and possibly send out a flare to a friend or family member.  Short of that, try writing stuff down or recording a voice message to yourself to review later.

What Are You Trying to Tell Me???

For me the real trick is to remember that I don’t have to solve my feelings in the exact moment that I’m having them.  I don’t even have to understand them or justify them.  I can feel mad without having to feel like that anger is necessarily justified – I just feel mad.  I don’t have to act on that anger, but I’m certainly allowed to FEEL it.

There are times in life when we have to act on our feelings in the moment.  When we feel in danger, when we need to defend ourselves, when we need to speak up to stop an active injustice or we have survival needs that aren’t being met.

Once the feelings are no longer clouding my ability to discern their factual base, I can examine the message.  Do some detective work, and figure out not only what is “true” for me at that particular moment, but what the feelings might be telling me underneath their truths, half-truths, and lies.

Our feelings are always telling us something, that much is absolute truth.  It’s simply WHAT they are telling us that we might misinterpret in the moment.  Are they telling us a situation needs to change, or that our thinking needs to change?  Are they telling us something real is happening, or that our meds are off and we’re hallucinating???  It’s good to have a reality check about stuff like that – even if that is an external “Phone A Friend” situation.

For instance, if I am feeling like I will never be happy again, it might be useful to review that later and remind myself of all of the other times in the past when I thought I would never be happy again.  Then I can remind myself of the many times I DID, in fact, feel happy again, even after I felt like happiness was gone forever.  If I can’t do that for myself, I have a small but loyal team of friends and family to help me.

Facing Reality

So my feeling that I’ll never be happy again might not be telling me the truth – but it IS telling me that there is a problem. Does it mean I’m headed into, or deeply IN, another depressive episode?  Or does it mean that something is going on in my real life that needs addressing.

It means SOMETHING – and the surrounding circumstances can help me figure out what that something is. If there is nothing going on externally, than in my case there is a good chance that it means I’m spiraling down into depression again, and I need to take some measures to preserve my mental health and safety.

Sometimes, though, real things in real life outside my head are actually happening – and if I attribute every feeling I have to depression, then the real things in real life will just stay a problem that will never be solved.  This is one of the many curses of depression.

Many people who have been living with depression and anxiety for long enough have learned that we attribute our feelings to a lot of different external factors only to find out we’ve been lying to ourselves about those things.  For me, that eventually turned into me assuming that every negative feeling I had was a result of my brain lying to me.  I began to feel like my feelings and thoughts could NEVER be trusted.  This was not at all true, of course, nor was it useful, but it did help me learn to examine my emotions rather than always making emotionally driven decisions.  

This inability to trust the messages I’m getting from myself is a pattern in many aspects of my life:  mental health, emotional well-being, and even physical health.  I have more than one disease that has deception at its core, from depression and anxiety to fibromyalgia. I’ll talk more about the lies that fibromyalgia can tell in another post…but let me just say for the record right now that FIBRO CAN SUCK IT.

OK – I’m OK…really.  Let’s move on.

Get the Message and Move On

I don’t have any real answers or solutions about the physical pain that lies to me.  One of my ongoing challenges, to be sure. However, I am a bit further along in learning how to handle emotions that might be lying to me.  I have learned to NOT ignore them, NOT discount them or treat them as invalid, and definitely to allow them rather than trying to NOT feel them. I have also learned that I can’t accept everything I feel as “true fact” even as I let those feelings out in my writing or a verbal tirade to a friend.  Without examination and some facts to back them up, I simply cannot know the truth of my emotions.

Repressing or refusing to feel our feelings can be detrimental not only to our personal development, but to our happiness and well being in this life.  Only by really feeling our emotions and then examining them with a clear head and full understanding of a situation, can we actually get the real message behind them.  Without the truth of it, we can’t get the message and move on.

We need the truth of a feeling, otherwise we might be doomed to keep feeling it over and over again.  We may even do damage to ourselves, our loved ones, our coworkers – even our community or our country – out of the lies and half-truths that repressed or misunderstood emotions can tell us.  Sometimes emotions are pure and unmitigated lies without any basis in reality at all – a chemical misfiring only.  However, EVEN those emotions are telling us that something is going on – if nothing more than a glitch in our brain chemistry.

For me, this lesson is ongoing, as I’ve only recently discovered some new things I might have been lying to myself about for a very long time.  Nope – not telling you all about that yet. Too soon…too soon.

Such is life, thought, right?  Ever changing, always flowing, which means we are not really done until we’re dead.  Simply allowing ourselves the luxury of being in our feelings without justification or logic for a bit can help us not only process through those feelings, but get the messages and get on with our lives.  If we deny our feelings, or try not to feel them, or assume they are all a lie, then we can never move forward.

On the other hand, if we give our emotions ALL of the power, and assume they are always telling the truth, we might take irrevocable action upon something that was a misinterpretation of reality.  So as in most things, finding balance seems to be the answer. FEEL your feelings – but don’t let them run your life without examination. Test them against reality – and when you’re sure, THEN you can follow your heart. A healthy balance between emotion driven action and logic driven action – I feel like THAT might be the key to success in life.

I could be wrong, though.

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