Feelings Aren’t Facts

July 2, 2013

Feelings are reactions—reactions to the world, to what life hands us, to our thoughts about what life hands us.

At one time or another, most of us have acted out of a thought or feeling that we later look back on with tremendous dismay or remorse.  “How could I have done that!?  What was I thinking?!”  Of course the problem is that we weren’t really thinking.  We were acting on automatic pilot.

Take love for example.  When we’re in love we can move pretty quickly into relating to our feelings as facts.  We decide to get engaged six days into a new relationship.  When our friends gently express concern we tell them they just don’t understand…this is our soul mate.  And when we’re ‘in it’, we really believe it!  Or we end a wonderful relationship in a fit of rage or momentary feeling of insecurity or paranoia because we believe our feelings are a reliable barometer of what’s happening.

The problem in these scenarios is that love is more than a feeling.  If we don’t balance our feelings with mindfulness, commitment and intellect, we’re destined to live as though we’re on a permanent roller coaster.  Exciting and fun the first few times, just like falling in love, but imagine the same ride with no second act, for eternity…

The following story isn’t about love, but it’s an example of what can happen when we treat a feeling like a fact.  I once resigned from a reeeally good job because I had a passing feeling of terror that I couldn’t handle it – and then found out a few days later that I was pregnant.  I not only had to deal with the insecurity of being unemployed, I also had to pay for COBRA insurance—do you know how expensive that is??!!.  In hindsight I suspect I could have handled the job, or at least left with greater wisdom and/or grace.

Mindfulness helps us to identify and honor our feelings yet act on our commitments.  It allows us to balance out our feelings with intellect and wisdom.