One of the biggest emotional traps we can fall into is the “if it feels true, it is true” trap.
This trap— which cognitive therapists call “emotional reasoning”— has an equally insidious sibling, the “if it doesn’t feel true, it must not be true” trap.
Both of these traps have the potential to make us miserable and really screw up our decision making. And yet, they’re two of the easiest traps for people to fall into every single day.
We have real problems in our culture discerning what is true. Our brains are notoriously persuadable to accept not-true things as fact, for a variety of reasons.
For instance, research suggests that we are likely to believe things are true that are espoused by people we consider attractive or desirable. For example: if we think a celebrity is attractive or has a life we envy, we’re likely to consider their opinions to be more credible— regardless of the evidence.
Research also suggests we are likely to believe things are true that are similar to things we already believe to be true. For example: if we think a certain “type” of person is terrible, we’re more likely to believe they did a terrible thing— regardless of the evidence.
A great deal of both research and common sense suggests that we tend to believe things are true when we have a vested interest in believing they are true. For example: if election results are accompanied by controversy, we are far more likely to believe the electoral result that is consistent with electing the candidate that we strongly feel “should” in the election.
Human beings simply aren’t all that great at sniffing out the truth. We’re very, very subject to influence.
Appearances, unconscious biases, cultural biases, peer pressure, faulty or insufficient information…these are just a few of the factors that contribute to the reality that, left to our own devices, we’re notoriously unreliable truth-seekers.
Feelings are a particularly tricky factor when it comes to our ability to ferret out the truth, because, well, sometimes things just feel SO DARN TRUE.
There have definitely been times when many of us have felt helpless and hopeless— and have become frustrated with others’ attempts to point out to us that we were not, in fact, helpless, and there was, in fact, hope, because, well, those feelings of helplessness and hopelessness just felt SO DARN TRUE.
There are many times when we have felt unloved or unappreciated— and have been surprised to find out that we were mistaken, that there were in fact people who loved us and appreciated us a great deal, because, well, in our own heads, those feelings of being unloved and unappreciated felt SO DARN TRUE.
Conversely, there have been times we’ve felt confident and certain— and have been unpleasantly surprised to find that we were not as prepared for what lay ahead as we thought we were, because, well, those feelings of confidence and certainty just felt SO. DARN. TRUE.
For many of us, it’s a rude awakening that our FEELINGS are not infallible guides to what is or isn’t true in the world outside our heads. Our feeling states may be our emotional reality— and, don’t get me wrong, our feelings should be acknowledged and respected as our emotional reality— but they may or may not bear any particular resemblance to the actual, objective world that occurs outside the boundaries of our bodies and minds.
“Are you saying my feelings are WRONG?” some may angrily ask when I tell hem their feelings are NOT an infallible guide to the reality of the world.
Well…yes and no.
FEELINGS, in and of themselves, are what they are. You didn’t ask for your feelings; in many ways you’re the passive recipient or observer of your emotional life. Feelings aren’t “wrong”— you feel what you feel.
Most of the time, for that matter, feelings, whatever relationship they may bear to the real world, have valuable information for us. We should pay attention to our feelings. Our feelings are valuable barometers of our perceptions and needs. Most of the time our feelings are valuable, functional tools.
But is that to say our feelings should be relied upon as accurate barometers of the actual situation on the ground out there, in the “real world?”
Sometimes they are. But sometimes they’re not. To assume that everything you’re FEELING is true is to assume everything that pops up on a map is an accurate reflection of the territory.
To quote a truism in Neuro-Linguistic Programming: the map is NOT the territory.
Pay attention to your feelings. Ask questions of your feelings. Ask where they come from; what they mean; what they’re trying to tell you. Honor your feelings and work the information they provide into your life plan.
But remember: feelings are one tool. One tool that have been shown to be very manipulable by people organizations who understand how feelings work and have invested lots of money in manipulating them.
Feelings are not facts.
Do not confuse the two.
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