Your feelings are valid. That is advice that we often give to those that are upset or are struggling. Your feelings are “valid,” in that you are feeling them and you have every right to feel them. That idea is considered a universal truth.
But valid is not the same thing as “true.” Feelings lie. Recognizing that your feelings, however valid, are not necessarily indicative of reality is critical. Here, we discuss why feelings lie, how they lie, and why your emotions shouldn’t be what you use to make decisions.
The Irrationality of Emotions
- “I miss her when she’s gone. It means I really love her.”
- “I am so mad right now. It means you wronged me.”
- “I am sadder than I thought I would be. Maybe I really did care.”
Emotions are real feelings, and when we experience them, we genuinely feel that way, and the way we feel should be accepted and processed. If we’re sad, we should recognize that we’re sad and try to feel better. If we’re frustrated, we should recognize that we’re frustrated and try to address that. When we’re happy, we should embrace that happiness and enjoy it. The feelings exist, and so we should acknowledge them.
However, our emotions also have a tendency to create a narrative in our minds that we associate with the emotion. For example, after a “mutual” breakup, many couples find that they miss the other person more than they thought. They then take that to mean that maybe they shouldn’t have broken up – maybe, the fact that they miss them is indicative of a stronger connection than they thought they had.
The problem is that feelings are not fact. Feelings are not logic. Feelings just… are.
Most of us already recognize that at least some feelings can be irrational. We see this in the field of psychology all the time – even by our patients. For example, a patient may come in feeling a severe fear of spiders. They know their fear is irrational, and that spiders are unlikely to kill them in their sleep, so they want to seek treatment that helps them stop fearing the spiders. They know their fear is irrational and a lie.
Yet many of us do not recognize that other feelings can also be a lie. The way we feel may still be real, but it doesn’t mean anything about the subject that caused the emotion. This is actually a core component of cognitive behavioral therapy. When someone struggles with depression, the chemicals in their brain tell them that things are hopeless, joyless, and negative. CBT, then, tries to re-train the brain to recognize that these emotions are caused by depression, not indicative of reality, and something that can be changed.
In life, these “lying” emotions happen all the time.
In our romantic relationships, we often allow our emotions to lie to us. For example, we may get very upset over something our partner does, and believe it to be a flaw with our partner, rather than a flaw with ourselves or a trauma related to the past.
We may also do the opposite. For example, we may find our partner very physically attractive, and mistake that desire for them sexually with love for who they are as a person. We get confused by our emotions, mistaking one emotion for another.
Ending relationships can be very similar. Many people continually enter and exit relationships because of the emotions they feel when the person is gone, telling themselves things like “I miss them, so I want them back.” The truth is that, if someone is in our life and then suddenly is no longer around, we are always going to miss them in some way because we notice their absence and experience feelings of loneliness. It does not mean that that particular person is someone we need in our lives.
In Day to Day Interactions
We also see our emotions lie to us in our everyday interactions and experiences. For example, when talking to someone, we may feel “down” after the conversation in a way that makes us feel like we failed or are being judged. We may be cry for what seems to be no reason, and attribute that to a specific event. We may find ourselves frustrated or unhappy, and assume that it is a reflection of our job or where we are in life.
Something as simple as losing sleep can lead us to feeling upset more easily, or unable to process our emotions. There are many situations in which we have an emotional response that isn’t based on reality – it’s just a way our brains have decided to react.
Emotions Are a Factor, Not a Guide
Our emotions can be very strong as a response to something going on around us. But that doesn’t mean that they are based in reality, and it certainly doesn’t mean that responding to those emotions is going to guide you correctly. Emotions are not logic. They are, by definition, not objective.
Now, that doesn’t mean that emotions are to be ignored completely, either. Your emotions are a factor in your decision. Something that makes you happy should be given more weight over something that makes you sad. If you feel a specific way, it might be worth exploring if there is logic behind that emotion. You’re not letting the emotion guide you, but are you recognizing that the emotion is there, and then using that as something to consider when you’re evaluating the logic and reality around you.
Emotions do matter. But they are not truth. They can be factored into decision making, but they shouldn’t be tool that you use to better understand yourself. Don’t discount how you feel, but make sure that you integrate logic and careful thought about the situations you face before you make life changing decisions based on how you feel.
For more information, read our blog post on Logic vs. Emotions.