Feelings are a source of information for us when it comes to making decisions and living our lives. A source. As in, one source of information, not “the only” or “the definitive” source of information.
Today’s lesson in personal growth is, let’s not pretend that our feelings are more reliable or informative than they actually are.
Feelings evolved in human beings to help guide our behavior. They represent our nervous system’s gut-level response of “this thing that is happening or might happen is a thing that might threaten our survival,” or “this thing that is happening or might happen is a thing that might aid our survival.” Feelings like contentment or excitement mean that our nervous system has decided “Hey, this thing is awesome, how about more of this thing?!” Feelings like anxiety or apprehension mean that our nervous system has decided, “Uh, I think this thing might, you know, kill us. How about less of this thing?”
Our nervous systems use multiple sources of information to make these gut-level decisions. To a certain extent, they use our own past experiences of what has led to pain and pleasure to decide of a thing is “for us” or “against us.” But they also use things like media representations, half-remembered stories and images from movies and books, and cultural ideas of “good” and “bad” to decide whether a thing is awesome or not.
That is, our feelings don’t always know what they’re talking about. They’re kind of this amalgam of true stuff, made up stuff, half-remembered stuff, and imagined stuff.
Which makes it odd that we so often consider our feelings infallible guides to whether something will enhance our lives or damage our lives.
Don’t get me wrong– our feelings are important sources of information for us. For that matter, healthy self-esteem requires us to pay attention to our feelings and honor what they’re telling us. If you ignore your feelings, eventually you’ll end up losing self-respect, because, well, you can’t ignore someone and respect them at the same time, including yourself. For that matter, it’s not like our feelings are always, or even often, wrong. They may be, they may not be.
The point is, our feelings are just like any other source of information: imperfect. And make no mistake, our feelings are just as susceptible to manipulation based on half-truths and emotionally persuasive chicanery (underused word, that) as any other source of information.
Because you feel there is danger, doesn’t mean there is. Because you feel you can’t change, doesn’t mean you can’t. Because you feel unloveable, doesn’t mean you are. Because you feel hopeless, doesn’t mean there is no hope.
Feelings are like any other source of information: they can be used well to enhance our experience, or they can be over relied upon or under relied upon. And there are plenty of people out there who know how manipulable our feelings are, and who have no qualms about bending our feelings to suit their own purposes.
Feelings are no more or less than what they are. Use them for what they’re good for, but don’t get suckered into imagining they can’t be wrong.