Often there may be a distortion, be it big or small, regarding how we see ourselves, others, or our lives in general. This distortion, or as I call it, the story we tell ourselves, frequently leads to emotional pain, increased anxiety, and potentially depression. That is because feelings aren’t facts.
The phrase, feelings aren’t facts, is commonly used in 12-step programs, yet it is profoundly true for all of us. This phrase uses the term, feelings, in such a way that it is not about emotions such as sadness, grief or anger. Instead it refers to our beliefs, perceptions, interpretations and thoughts. It speaks to the ways in which we experience ourselves, or others, in a subjective way.
Perception is Reality
When we say, for example, “I don’t feel good enough.” How could this statement not create further unease? Although others in our world may perceive us as amazing, or more than good enough, it is what we tell ourselves, even if it is not a fact, that emotionally distresses us.
This may be further exacerbated by making comparisons based on our assumptions about other people. We may tell ourselves, “That woman has got it all together. Look at her. How come I don’t?” This story may also not be a fact, yet because we believe it is, it may further exacerbate, or contribute, to the wearing away of our self-esteem.
Fact or Fiction
When we operate from a place of misconception, distortion, or fiction, then we walk through the world from this place. This can produce a distortion of ourselves, of other people in our lives, or the world in general. If we function from a place of fear, anxiety or anger our perception of reality can be tainted with negativity. These painful feelings, although triggered by non-facts, can still ultimately affect us.
Another person’s comment may remind us of something that occurred in our history. Accusations and judgements that occurred in our childhood, or adolescence, that were not resolved may influence our interpretation of circumstances in our current lives. The other person, and even ourselves, may have no idea this unresolved issue has influenced our perception unless this interaction is explored or clarification is sought.
We Believe What We Perceive
Our internal process, or how we internally experience or interpret something, is often more about our history as opposed to what the other person may truly mean. The stories we tell ourselves about what the other person means may negatively affect the relationship.
Often we use the word feeling for what is not a feeling. For example, I feel that you are accusing me of lying. It is important to differentiate this thought from the feelings that are triggered by it. Although feelings are experienced, our reaction to the information we receive from the world, and others, may give power to the incorrect perception. If we are someone who tends to perceives the glass as half empty, we are more likely to believe the worst than the optimist who views the world from a more positive perspective.
We may tell ourselves…
- “The world is an evil place.” Although there may be true evil in this world to globalize it in such a way distorts the reality. If we believe the world is all evil, then that is how we will live. We will overlook the fact that there is also much kindness and love in the world.
- “I’m not good enough.” If we hold unrealistic expectations of ourselves from comparing ourselves to others then that may be the emotional burden we may carry.
- “You’re accusing me of something.” As a child, or adolescent, if we may have been accused of something we didn’t do by parents, clergy, or another adult and it was not resolved, we may assume others share the belief that we are not trustworthy.
What is Real and what is Self-Distortion?
Are we telling ourselves stories about what our partners, family, friends or colleagues are doing, thinking, or how they are viewing us, or what they believe about us? Have we evaluated that our feelings are based upon truth and facts and not something stimulated from our history? We can create unnecessary conflict if we are not asking for clarification, or sharing how we are experiencing that other person.
The problem is that sometimes we only feel the cold prickly emotions, those that are scary or painful. It helps to understand that sometimes our emotions may not be telling us the truth.Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D, Psychology Today
Reducing False Facts
If we just go on the assumption of, or truly believe without questioning self or others, then we will operate from this place and this can affect relationships and how we feel about ourselves.
Examine the Facts
- Check in and ask where does this belief, or perception, come from?
- Do I have any evidence that this is so? Is this a story I’m telling myself, or is it a fact?
- Is it in my highest good to continue to stay stuck in this story, or perception, or do I want to work toward shifting it?
Ask for Clarification
If we take the time to rephrase what we believe we heard we can gain clarification and determine if it is a fact. One of the ways to work with this is to ask the other person directly.
- “What I hear you saying is…”
- “Could you clarify?”
- “What did you mean?”
- “I want to be clear that I understand you.”
Let Us Help
If you have difficulty separating facts, stories and actual feelings, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance and Counseling on Long Island can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people work through unresolved issues that may be contributing to not being able to distinguish between feelings and facts and discover how to alleviate this burden and embrace true feelings.