Monday, January 2, 2012

Feelings are Not Facts

Feelings are like weather systems that provide fertile information for your life, but they are too changeable and impermanent to trust as a compass for what you are doing in your relationships. ~Wendy Strgar

Feelings are a minefield following the discovery of betrayal. They explode, unbidden, rendering us sobbing, screaming messes. They seem huge. Uncontrollable. And very, very real.
The thing is...they're not. Real, that is. Our feelings are the product of some sort of emotional alchemy that takes place in the environment that is us. They're not facts. And while facts can be wrestled into some sort of sense, feelings can continue to cripple us long after the facts have changed into something far more palatable.
It's a common, human problem. 
We confuse feelings with facts.
Consider this:
Fact: A college boyfriend dumps us for another girl.
Feeling: I'm not pretty enough. Or smart enough. Or interesting enough.

Let's try another:
Fact: An idea we present to our boss gets rejected as impractical.
Feeling: We'll never get ahead. We won't get a raise. We're destined to spend eternity in low-level management.

See the difference? The fact is the event. The feelings are what we bring to the table. The same "fact" can occur in two people's lives – say the work scenario. But while one person concludes that she's doomed to failure, the other determines that, while her idea might not have succeeded, there's plenty more where that came from and she sets about presenting them. Same fact, different feelings.

This distinction becomes challenging when the "fact" is such an emotionally loaded one as betrayal. We believe the "fact" that our entire marriage is a sham,  our spouse an asshole, our future bleak.
Taking the time to differentiate between facts and feelings, however, can give you a clarity desperately needed at a time like this.
Fact: My husband cheated.
Feeling: I'm hurt, angry, confused...but not drawing conclusions about my past or my future. That can come after I load my revolver and empty it into his head. (Kidding. Kidding.)

I have no illusion that this is easy. But it is critical. As Wendy Strgar notes in the quote posted above, feelings are too untrustworthy to make life choices based on them. Feel the feelings...but then try and let them wash away and focus on the facts. If the fact is that he's still seeing the Other Woman, then figure out how to change that fact or whether you need to change your situation (ie. leave or tell him to). If the fact is that he is a serial cheater, then figure out what you need to change in order to deal with that..or never have to deal with it again. But do your best to avoid the feelings, which look an awful lot like self-flagellation, that spring from the facts.


  1. I'm working with my therapist on not having my feelings take over. The work we are doing is Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy and the patient is trained to think of themselves in parts. Example -- A part of me is so angry with my husband I want nothing more than to run straight to divorce court (after I unload that revolver :-). While another part of me still loves him ( a little) and wants to keep our family together. This therapy is helping me identify my many parts and I'm learning how not to let any one of those parts take over and consume me. I'm new at it but I think it's helping and would encourage anyone struggling with being taken over by the sadness/anger (insert feeling here) to look into seeing if this type of therapy might be of interest.

  2. Hi Pippi,
    I haven't heard of Internal Family Systems therapy. Sounds interesting...and good. As usual, my kids are my best teachers. I often find that by helping them manage their feelings (kids' feelings are always so HUGE!), I, too, learn how to separate the feeling (anger) from the fact (Rachel ignores me at school). Amazing how helping others helps us.



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