Contact us

How can I trust my feelings?

This is a common question expressed not just in the therapy room, but has been something I’ve wrestled with for many years. The easy and perhaps, most honest answer is… it depends? Maybe? Sometimes?
I know…wholly unsatisfying! Let’s unpack this so that it makes a little more sense.

In order to understand which direction to go in, we need to:

  1. Have a destination in mind
  2. Have a means of getting us where we want to go
  3. Have a sense of the direction that will get us there

Feelings: Our internal compass (sense of direction)

Our feelings are our internal compass. Our thoughts and behaviours are often primarily driven by how we feel about them. The challenge is however, that our feelings are impacted/moulded by innumerable circumstances or unconscious processes, many of which we’re not aware of/thinking about when we make decisions.
If you’ve ever made a choice and thought later, “Why the hell did I do that?” or “What was I thinking?!”, this is why.

It might be so that the way we feel about something is not an absolute, ‘capital T-Truth’ universally applied to others, but it might be our truth – at least, in the moment (I like to call this my ‘small t-truth’). So rather than dismissing our feelings, judging them or hiding from them, we begin by noticing that we’re having them in the first place. Labelling our feelings is an amazing start to making sense of them.

When we are disconnected from our feelings, it can make it really difficult to understand our lived experience and why we behave and think the way we do. The impact of disconnection from our feelings can lead to challenging short and long-term experiences. We may be more prone to making choices that may harm ourselves or others.

Feelings: Help us identify and understand our needs (the means to get to our destination)

Our feelings are the signals in our brain which communicate our needs, to ourselves (and by proxy – to others as well!). For example, if I’m feeling physically cold, the sensations in my body are sending signals to my brain which may cause goosebumps to rise, my body to shiver and my hands, ears, and toes may become numb as a result.

Ignoring these feelings, pretending I don’t have them or distracting myself to where I’m not thinking about them serves a purpose – in the short term. However, the issue of being cold hasn’t gone anywhere.  We’re having these physical responses for a reason, our body is telling us it is cold and that it needs to warm up. Long exposure to cold can have negative physical implications for us, if not now, then perhaps later.

Understanding what these feelings are communicating to us, means that we can make active steps to change our present condition.
We may ask ourselves:

  • ‘Is there a window open?’ – Is it broken? Did someone forget to close it?  Solution: Shut the window
  • ‘Is the radiator on?’ – Is it still working? Does the pressure need looking at? Have I paid the bill? Solution: Have a look at the radiator
  • ‘Do I need a jumper? – Are my clothes too thin? Has the weather dropped outside? Solution: Put on additional clothing

Just as it’s important to feel, interpret our physical needs, and act on them – so too is it, that we attend to the needs of our psychological, emotional, spiritual, and social selves. When we’re disconnected from our feelings;  just like travelling without a sense of direction, we can feel very swiftly, lost.

Connection to our feelings gives us the means to address our needs, and therefore, move our lives in the direction we want to go.

Context is everything! (arriving at our destination)

This all sounds well and good until we encounter an inconvenient reality. Arguably, most [if not all] of us at some stage, may say something akin to this – “I have made choices based on feelings, and they turned out to be so very wrong…even disastrous. Why are feelings useful if they can lead us down paths that are harmful”.

I hear you. In fact, this was one of the first questions I asked my therapist a decade ago, during a time where I was questioning just about every life choice I’d ever made up until that point.

A fatal flaw in my worldview at this life stage was this – ‘because I feel…so it is’. Feelings were synonymous with absolute, ‘capital T’, objective truth. This was a dangerous belief system, because it left me at the mercy of a mind that could only see through the daunting and relentless lens of depression and anxiety.

A depressed person might feel that they are: useless, hopeless, stupid, ugly and worthless.
An anxious person might feel that they are: unloveable, being judged and unprepared.
An angry person might feel that they are: being disrespected, insulted, deliberately left out.

Did you catch it? ‘I feel, therefore…it is/I am
What other narratives might contradict these ‘truths’?Here was a life-changing perspective for me: I am not my feelings.
I experience feelings. They send signals to my mind-body, which in turn, encourage an action in response.

Here are a few reflective questions to help us challenge and explore our feelings:

  1. Do I notice a pattern to when I feel certain emotions in terms of time, place, and people present?
  2. When do I regularly feel more negatively attributed emotions such as stress, fear, anger, confusion, fatigue or numbness?
  3. What patterns of behaviour do I feel the most stuck in? What are obstacles breaking free of negative cycles?
  4. When do I feel the most fulfilled, excited, encouraged, content or happy?
  5. What are the circumstances contributing to these emotional states?
  6. When taking a moment to reflect on my state of being, what automatic thoughts begin to feature? Do they resonate as truth? Is there evidence to the contrary?
  7. When considering physical, emotional, social, spiritual or mental health, are there areas which I feel are lacking? Why do I think this is?

When considering our feelings, try to find the counterargument to any narrative that emerges. Find as many points of view as possible and we may realise that ideas about ourselves which we’ve accepted as ‘True’, may not be as solid as we believe. Perhaps the negative stories that we have come to believe at some stage in our lives, simply do not resonate anymore when held under scrutiny.

What might happen if we approach our feelings with acceptance, non-judgment, and curiosity? We may just start to understand ourselves and the world around us all the clearer.

David Sheppard MBACP Accredited, Therapist

Pinterest LinkedIn