Feelings vs. emotions: Let's get clear about them Written by Brendan Mooney Psychologist
Trust your instincts Follow your gut
These are some of the common societal sayings in relation to making choices or decisions in life.
But is this a wise way to make choices in life or can this approach lead us astray?
What if we need to very clearly discern the quality of the feeling we are experiencing?
For example, is it possible that those who are familiar with failure may feel uncomfortable with success? For a person familiar with failure, ‘trusting their instincts’ might result in them unwittingly making decisions that will continue to thwart their success.
But what about when ‘gut feelings’ are spot on?
Take the following scenario: Imagine John who rarely buys lottery tickets suddenly has a gut feeling he should go out and buy a ticket. As a result of buying the ticket he wins millions of dollars. Shortly before buying the ticket, John also landed a job in an important role that allows him to support many others. Upon winning the lottery ticket John quits his job and, as happens to many who have won the lottery, becomes depressed within a short time later and begins to lose his usual sense of purpose in life. In this scenario, did John’s gut feeling really support him?
Whilst the above example might appear far-fetched it illustrates that what we think we want and what actually supports us can be muddied by pictures of success or happiness that are not based on what we truly feel but on what our ‘gut’ tells us we want or should have.
Hence whilst gut feelings may in some cases be somewhat accurate, what if these so-called feelings are based on our attraction to what is familiar to us rather than any point of truth? In other words, what if we often relate to the world based on what we have previously experienced, even when it comes to what we say we ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’. How much of our perceptions and opinions are coloured by what we have experienced in the past?
For example, if we believe the house we grew up in as a child was too cramped, we might ‘feel’ to buy a house that is bigger…this might even be a house that is beyond what we can reasonably afford – In this case is this really a true way to make decisions or is it based on a reaction?
Ever had a conversation with someone about a topic that both of you knew a lot about? In other words, both parties could relate to the other based on a familiar or common experience. Sometimes we may mistake this type of interaction as a meaningful connection, but what if it is not? In other words, what if we gain relief from knowing that another has experienced a similar issue or situation, but if neither party have truly addressed the issue then no true support can be offered in the interaction.
The most important thing is for us to clearly discern exactly what it is we are truly feeling, otherwise we can be easily led astray by our emotional issues with near-truths or in some cases complete untruths.
Another example which is described with great respect to all those who have experienced abuse:
Is it possible that some people who have experienced a history of abuse may perceive abuse to be emotionally safe? Obviously they may not feel physically safe (in the case of physical or sexual abuse), but safe in the sense that abuse unfortunately becomes a familiar experience for them. Familiarity means that it is predictable, and hence whilst no-one would ever say they would like to be in another abusive relationship, perhaps the comfort of the familiar can sometimes attract a person to have one abusive relationship after another? In other words, whilst a person may communicate they do not like living with abuse, at least it is a familiar and predictable way of living compared to possibly the seeming unknown of living a truly loving relationship, which for some may seem completely foreign and terrifying.
Express how you truly feel
The problem lies in our ability to discern what we call a ‘clear feeling’ vs. a reinterpreted or misinterpreted feeling. If you have a clear feeling about something but then you emotionally react to it, the reaction is a reinterpretation or misinterpretation of what you originally felt was true. Whilst there may still exist an aspect of truth in this new ‘feeling’, if you make a decision based on this emotion it will lead you astray. But how do we discern a true feeling from a tainted one? Perhaps the answer lies in us connecting to our bodies. Being present in our bodies allows us to feel settled within ourselves and observe life around us. From here it is easy to clearly know what you feel to eat and how, what time you feel to go to bed, what to express to another and when, etc. You may have experienced a situation when you were having a conversation with someone, whereby they were simply expressing how they truly felt about something, but then at some point in the conversation they began to react in an emotional way (e.g. frustrated, angry, sad). This is a classic example of the difference between the simplicity of expressing what we truly feel vs. reacting to life and then expressing from the reaction (emotion). An important note is that there are many who perceive that feelings cannot be trusted, and instead choose to navigate their way through life by relying solely on their intellect. Unfortunately this way of life becomes a calculating and measured one based on recalling what a person remembers has worked for them in the past and attempting to apply this knowledge to new situations. However, ‘intellectuals’ experience emotional problems too, hence whilst they may believe they can ‘outwit’ life perhaps they are just seemingly better at hiding their issues than the ‘emotional person’? ‘Intellectuals’ often appear composed and contained in their mannerisms and presentation which represents an overlay of false confidence that does not truly reflect what is going on underneath, that is, the emotional unrest. 3 tips for ensuring you are feeling clearly and not just ‘being emotional’ or relying on ‘gut instincts’:
Do you feel present and are you observing a situation or do you feel affected and overwhelmed by it?
Are you going to a solution or a behaviour that you are most familiar with and tend to repeat or have you truly discerned what is needed next?
Are you looking for external solutions to change the way you feel before connecting to what it is you truly want to express?
More will be written in an upcoming series of articles on this topic. If you would like to read more be sure to subscribe to receive email updates.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.