Friday, April 22, 2011

Lesson #4: Feelings Are Not Facts

The way you feel is not always an accurate reflection of what is happening in reality.  There are many times in the 1980s I felt like I was going to die as a result of President Reagan's negotiations with the U.S.S.R.  Conversely, I woke up the morning of September 11, 2001, feeling like it was going to be a wonderful day. When I lead with my feelings I am mostly wrong, because feelings such as depression, fear, anger, and even joy and excitement, are not representations of what is actually taking place.

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 the 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'm on a roller coaster I feel like my body is in jeopardy.  Rationally I know that it is a lot more likely I could die in the car that brought me to the roller coaster, but on a ride I allow myself to have a sensational feeling while knowing that the thrill is not real.  Whether it is excitement or frustration, my feelings are not reflections of the objective reality. 

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 feel, 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."

It is often painfully true that domestic violence often occurs when one partner feels the other person is cheating or betraying the other in some manner.  Regardless of what is actually true, once one person is suspicious, then the trust is broken, resentment and anger builds, and this all too often gets released in a violent and/or verbal action.  This need not ever happen!

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 and 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 like my grief will never end after losing someone, but I know from experience that it will change.  Knowing this lesson at age forty sets me on track to have wonderful highs and lows on the roller coaster ride called "world," while making important decisions based on objective data.

If feelings are too overwhelming, then stop, breathe, think, and ask for help from a therapist or someone you trust.  Take good care of yourself because it can be very hard to practice rationality when hungry, afraid, lonely, or tired.   Children often learn to take a "time-out" when they are emotionally overwhelmed and I think as adults that is one of the wisest tools we can use as well. 

If we want to live in a world with less suicide, less violence, and less suffering, then it begins by each of us 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, and taking more actions based on facts instead of feelings.  Practicing this lesson has offered me the opportunity to live with increased fun and fulfillment, and reduced suffering. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, body image, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at

**If you are in the New York City area, please come by for Damon's "Fabulous at Forty" workshop on Monday, April 25th, at 8pm, at 208 W. 13th Street, Room 410* 

Lesson #10: You Are 100% Responsible For How You Feel 
Lesson #19: There Is No Need To Fear Feelings
Lesson #38: This Too Will Pass


jim11776 said...

one could say feelings are not based on factual evidence; but in fact, one would be wrong. feeling like the train is never going to arrive when it's late is not the same as stating 'the train is never going to arive'. if one could say objectively that they know for a fact the train will arrive, then you could destroy the feeling as not factual.
another example; my life is never going to get better. it's possible a life won't get better.
point is; there is no way to predict the future; it's all about guessing.
so, a feeling is factual; based on presumptive knowledge and belief.
in layman's terms: i feel this way. it's a fact i feel this way. telling me i don't feel this way might be your feeling, but your feeling is obviously not a fact.

Margus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margus said...

Jim you completely misunderstood what was said.

IT was not written that you DONT feel the feelings or its not a fact that you do.Instead it was said that people are seeing things as true or false based on their feelings instead factual knowledge of something.

I can feel that im a superman and i can fly but it does not change the fact that i cant.