“There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison.” – Jane Austen
Should we trust our brain or our feelings? The answer to this question has eluded me in the past few weeks, yet I have realised it is more complicated than I ever thought. I have always fancied myself as someone in control of their feelings until I was confronted with a ‘new feeling’.
Somehow, over the past few decades, it’s become conventional wisdom that we should put our faith in our feelings. That is, if we feel something—especially if we feel it intensely—then it deserves to be seen as valid, or truthful. The adage “trust your feelings” has by now become almost axiomatic. But ultimately, how logical or how safe is it to conclude that if we feel something strongly, we should both believe it and permit it to control our behaviour?
The very essence of cognitive-behavioural therapy and rational emotive behaviour therapy as well is derived from the theory that how we think determines how we feel. But as this theory itself might ask, if our thoughts are exaggerated, distorted or, for that matter, downright delusional—how can we possibly place our faith in any feelings that stem from such irrational thoughts? Are we not in what the ICT world calls a G.I.G.O. type of situation here (i.e., garbage in, garbage out)? For if our thoughts are erroneous, or based on false assumptions, the feelings tied to these thoughts are bound to be equally distorted—and hardly to be trusted.
To give some examples, if we mistakenly interpret a situation as dangerous, the anxiety or panic that we’ll feel however intense will still be groundless, because it’s not reality-based. Or if we irrationally perceive our situation as hopeless despite the fact that several options exist that could save us from our plight the depression we’ll experience will be similarly illogical. Or finally, if we were overindulged as children and grew up with the narcissistic assumption that we deserved to get everything we wanted, then when we’re older and subject to a world that fails to cater to our desires, we’ll probably feel we’re being treated unfairly. And consequently, we’ll experience a great deal of self-righteous anger, even indignation. But since our sense of entitlement was false, to begin with, our keenly felt anger will be without reasonable justification.
In further reviewing why it’s so important to be wary of letting our feelings dictate our behaviour, it’s also crucial to distinguish between emotions not rationally linked to present-day circumstances and what I’ll call true “gut feelings,” indistinguishable from intuition. When, say, a hot woman feels markedly uncomfortable (or “spooked”) in an elevator she’s sharing with a stranger, it’s only prudent that she exits at the next floor. And it needs to be added that her taking such a precaution is guided not so much by the diffuse emotion of anxiety, which might suggest an exaggerated distrust of strangers based on personal history, but by a more instinctual, fear-based response, itself derived from her self preservation faculties. I mean she knows she’s beautiful. As I see it, genuine intuition (as a survival mechanism hard-wired into all of us) can be safely relied upon. It’s inherently trustworthy, whereas our emotions need to be viewed much more cautiously.
Going back to the elevator example, if a woman routinely feels threatened whenever she’s alone with an unfamiliar male, there’s far less reason to think that her fear is intuitive or reality-based. In such a case, what most likely would be setting off her anxiety is some unresolved disturbance, or trauma, from the past—something that left her “sensitised” (or over-reactive) to particular situations in which she couldn’t help but experience herself as out of control. Possibly, she was physically attacked or raped or grew up in a home with a father who, unpredictable and/or authoritarian, regularly intimidated or physically abused her.Only two emotions control the world, fear and love, and fear is the greatest. Tweet Me
However, the here-and-now experience may be only coincidentally related to the past one. There may be no meaningful connection at all between what just happened to us and what we experienced years ago. But if the present-day circumstance “triggers” us, we’ll still react to it as though it were a recurrence of the original situation. Regressing to an earlier emotional state, at that moment our rational mind is impaired, unable to function logically. In short, in such instances our emotions do not derive from the current circumstance–and are, therefore, not to be trusted.
Just as our thoughts govern our emotions, our emotions, in turn, govern our behaviour. So unless we’re able to do an on-the-spot reality check, we’re in danger of reacting to such present-day “prompts” in a way that may be completely inappropriate and self-defeating. Plainly, we can harm a relationship if in the here-and-now we deal with that person as though he or she were some ghost from our past. It’s as though we’re presented with one set of stimuli and, because of personal biases we’re totally oblivious of, we react as though we’d been presented with an altogether different set of stimuli. Once again, our emotions—however deeply felt—can end up betraying us.
One final example of needing to be careful about “running” with our emotions relates to the blissful experience of falling in love. Which is to say that our falling “madly” in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean that the person we’re so enamoured of is right for us—i.e., the one. Certainly, in the moment it almost always feels this way, trust me, I know. But since falling in love is more chemical than cognitive, we need to be extremely careful about making an instant commitment because of the power of our feelings. Falling “head over heels” may mean just that: our passion, has thrown us seriously off balance–and we, therefore, need to proceed with considerable caution. In some ways, it’s almost as easy to just fall in love and not feel it but think it, especially if we’re ready for the experience, or the other person is just so attractive to us. Like I said last week, sometimes you just need to be willing to see how deep the rabbit hole is, feelings or not, just be like Nike and just do it.
I believe we need to remind ourselves that a romantic, emotionally laden, attraction may be far more physical than spiritual and that it may not be grounded in our ability to accurately access the other’s deeper nature or personality traits—traits that, finally, we might come to view either as lovable and endearing; or as loathsome, revolting or contemptible (consider, for example, the movie, “The War of the Roses”). Love for one has no formula. You can close your eyes to stuff you don’t want to see but you cannot close your heart to what it wants to feel. All you can do is look at it objectively and make decisions based on what you want. As I said, I was introduced to a new feeling recently, and I for the lack of a better word, love it. Tupac Shakur once said only two emotions control the world, fear and love, and fear is the greatest. Do you agree?
As always, hope you and yours are safe. Share with us your thoughts in the comments sections, would love to hear what you think or what you feel about this post. Let’s Go!!!