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Feelings Aren't Facts - What That Means and How To Manage Feelings Vs Facts

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Feelings aren't facts.” Though this is true, they’re still real, and they matter. The point behind this saying is that feelings don’t need to rule your life. Take your feelings into account, but don’t necessarily use them as the only guide to your actions.

I used to let my feelings rule my life – if I didn’t FEEL like doing something I didn’t. If I was afraid of doing something, I didn’t do it. If I felt like indulging in a hot fudge sundae I did.

I now understand that just because you feel something, doesn't mean you should act on that feeling. We also want to consider facts when deciding on a course of action, not just our feelings.

Feelings are often based on the past rather than on what’s currently going on. This is particularly so for people who have any kind of trauma. When that’s the case, you’re likely to have feelings that are out of proportion regarding something that’s happening in the present.

I think of it like this - it's like trauma creates a kind of “fault line.” When something happens in the present, it bumps up against that trauma fault line, which causes a reverberation through your system. The way that reverberation gets expressed is through our feelings.

The problem is that when you don't know any of that is going on and something happens in the present moment to trigger you, you think it's the current situation that’s causing your feelings. Perhaps someone does something mindful of the past, so you think it's them who has caused your big giant feelings. If that’s the case, you might think “If they stop doing that, my big feelings will go away.” But what’s really going to help with the feelings is dealing with the original trauma. That will help get those feelings to be more “right-sized.” More about that in a moment.

Feelings are real. They matter. They tell us something about ourselves. Where we get into trouble is when we act as if it's a fact that our feelings are always coming from the current person or situation. When I decide you’re the cause of my problems, I then deal with my feelings like they’re facts.

What we need to do, instead, is focus on what we want, not on what we don't want: the shitty feeling. For example, I want peace. That means I need to ask myself what I need to do to get to peace. Focusing on other people and what they're doing is not going to get me to peace. It’s going to get me to focus on them and what they’re doing, which I can’t control. Trying to control them is impossible, so it’s fruitless and an endless drain on energy (i.e., not peace).

What I can control is me. I can control what actions I’m going to take regarding the things that are happening around me. This can be hard to do when we’re feeling triggered, but it is possible, especially when you pause before responding. Take a few deep breaths to get the signal to your body “I’m safe” so that instead of responding from your lizard brain (as I call it,) respond from your frontal lobe or the higher-order thinking part of your brain. If you need help with learning how to pause, I get it. It was monumental for me to learn how to do that, and I explain that here in this podcast episode. When you pause like this, you come out of fight-or-flight mode and can then look at the facts of the situation (e.g., he is not my mom scolding me for doing something wrong. He is my coworker, and I’m an adult).

I'm not saying you always need to control your feelings. It’s important to feel your feelings, to allow them to exist rather than resisting them. That resistance is much more of a problem than the actual feeling. Feelings are energy, which continually morphs and changes. They will not last forever. But it’s hard to remember that when you’ve been triggered.

Resisting those feelings makes them even bigger! When you couple that resistance with the fact that they’re often based on traumatic or dramatic incidents in the past, our feelings can seem HUGE! 

If we let the emotions go through us, they will dissipate. But if we resist, they build and create tension in our bodies. So allow yourself to feel those feelings, just don't let them rule you. We should allow feelings to inform us, but not the exclusion of facts, especially if those feelings are rooted in the past. 

It’s important to honor your feelings. You were given them for a reason. But it’s also important to make sure you’re not treating them as facts. They’re not necessarily indicators of what’s really going on. You won’t know until you’ve done some investigating. If your feelings are way out of proportion, it may be that you’re dealing with trauma. If that’s the case, you may very well need the help of a therapist who specializes in the treatment of trauma.

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