Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Messed Up Thinking #5: My Feelings Are Facts

This is probably one of the biggest mistakes smart people make to ruin their lives.  They use their feelings to determine what is absolutely true.  They decide that just because something feels a certain way, then it must be an accurate reflection of reality.  And as we have witnessed recently in the news, this type of thinking can be fatal. 

To begin, feelings are not facts. They are experiences that can be extremely pleasurable or quite disturbing.  Either way, they do not always reflect what is objectively taking place around you.  For example:  When I'm waiting for that subway train to come, I often feel like it's never going to get there, and then I experience frustration, impatience, and anger.  The rational  fact is that eventually that train will be there.  It could be one minute, it could be twenty minutes, but eventually someday, sometime that train will appear.  When I decide to believe my irrational feelings, I suffer the consequences, by having unpleasant emotions.  

This can be especially troublesome in relationships when you feel like someone else is doing something wrong.  A phone call or text message isn't returned quickly.  Your partner is distracted.  Your sex life decreases.  These can all lead one to feel like a relationship is in trouble, when in fact, these can be common occurrences in any long term partnership.  These changes may mean nothing at all.  But if you make decisions solely based on how they feels, versus rationality,  you are bound to be stressed out and unhappy, and possibly destroy a union that has value to both of you.  Conversely, you may feel like someone truly loves you and wants to be with you, while the rational evidence may show that that person is not loving and caring towards you.  Either way, feelings are not the best indicator of what is actually happening in reality. 

Sadly, thinking that feelings are facts can have deadly consequences as well.  We are too familiar now with the frequency that young gay/lesbian people take their lives while feeling like their life will never get better.  Rationally, we know that life does get better, and the current "It Gets Better" campaign offers plenty of credible evidence to support this.  Yet suicide attempts are made from the irrational thought, "I feel my life will never get better so that must be true."

Please keep in mind, there is nothing "bad" or problematic about feelings.  As I said earlier, feelings can be wonderful pleasurable experiences.  What brings unnecessary pain is suffering is when you use feelings to decide something is true at the exclusion of rational evidence around you.  I may feel that train isn't coming, but all rational evidence would indicate it will.  I may feel my life is over when all rational evidence would indicate it will get better. 

If we want to live in a world with less suicide, less violence, and less suffering, then it begins by each person challenging automatic thought patterns.  If you want to see young people live and thrive instead of taking their lives, then all of us need to be that change.  We can all be part of the solution just by making some adjustments to our thought patterns. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals, couples, and families in New York City. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."

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