Nathanael Garrett Novosel, June 12 2024

Trusting Your Feelings vs. Your Feelings Being Honest

You should always listen to your feelings, and they are always being honest with you. However, you shouldn’t always trust them. How is that possible?

Well, your feelings are a combination of your desires, beliefs, and experiences. Your feelings are constantly giving you feedback on all three. For example, if you are about to go skydiving and are afraid of heights, then your body will be in a panic mode as you want to live, you believe that falling will kill you, and you are experiencing the situation where you are about to jump out of a plane that is thousands of feet in the air and you could crash head-first into the ground and die. That is your emotional state working perfectly well and rationally. However, your emotions are not always correct because your beliefs could be wrong. Hence, you blindly trusting your feelings without examining your beliefs would be just as dangerous as never listening to your emotions and acting without thinking.

So what is the difference between your beliefs being honest and you trusting them? If you are worried about spending money because your bank account is low, then your feelings are nudging you into a good direction of being responsible with money (earning more and/or spending less). That is good feedback. But what if you just got paid yesterday and you have plenty of money in the bank now? In that case, your feelings—while being honest with you—were unfounded because you do, indeed, have plenty of money for the purchase you are about to make. That is the difference between your beliefs being honest and you trusting them without verifying that the assumptions you are making to lead to that emotional state are valid.

So, what can you do with this understanding? You can balance listening to your emotions, processing them, possibly adjusting the factors that went into them, and then control them as a result. This is the optimal relationship between yourself and your emotions. Men are often taught the controlling part early to control their behavior and be men—how else can you stand on the front lines of a battlefield and not run away in fear?—and women are often taught the listening part early because they are trained in nurturing techniques to make someone feel better.  Being attuned to the underlying needs beneath emotions can allow you to address them, while practicing emotional control can allow you to prevent them from causing you to behave inappropriately.

Ideally, one would combine those techniques and add beliefs testing to get to the optimal process of feeling an emotion -> processing it -> reacting to it -> letting the emotion subside or run its course. For example, if you feel afraid, you can determine why, see if you can either changes your beliefs or behavior, and then feel better as a result. It might be that you are in a dangerous situation and so you act to get out of it, or it could be that your fear is unfounded and you change your beliefs about the situation to feel better (or it could be both—there is danger, but you then realize that you have a strong, knowledgeable person who can protect you). You can use this approach for any situation: if you are afraid about doing business with someone, it could be that you believe him or her to be deceptive and so you don’t wish to take the risk. Alternatively, you could be making assumptions based on the person’s innate characteristics, which might lead to inaccurate conclusions about the person’s trustworthiness. This analysis can help you make the best decisions possible given the information you have and how you are reacting to it all.

There are consequences to not following each part of the process. If you ignore your emotions, you might not act in a way that might be beneficial. For example, you might not listen to the signals that you might be making the wrong choice of a potential mate or a purchase. If you don’t properly process and manage your emotions, you can react inappropriately. An example of this is that you might scream when you are scared when you should be quiet so as to not attract attention to yourself. Finally, you then need to ensure that you properly change your beliefs or behavior to address the situation. For example, you might be scared and yet have to proceed, anyway, so you need to use your beliefs to calm you down.

The basics are simple: if you are hungry, eat; if you are tired, sleep; if you need to go to the bathroom, go; if you want a mate, attend social events. However, your life always gets more complicated and you need to manage your response. If you are hungry but can’t eat for a while, you will need to tell yourself that you can’t eat now but will be able to eat soon. You need to use your beliefs to manage your emotions—even if your emotions are correct. This is what makes emotional management so difficult and complex. The better you get at sensing, processing, reacting to, and releasing emotions, the better you will get at behaving optimally in your life.

That last item is an important component as well: releasing your emotions. Many people can’t let go of their emotions once they have done all they can. In fact, that is one of the first and best things you can do once you have responded correctly: “I have done all that I can do at this time.” Adding new beliefs can change your emotional state, such as reminding yourself that no one will remember that embarrassing situation five years from now or that you’ll never see the person you fought with on your European vacation ever again. These steps can help you to let go of emotions that otherwise might stay with you for hours, days, or even months after a particularly emotional event.

So you should always listen to your emotions, as they are giving you important information. And your emotions are very, very honest—you never feel good about something that your desires, beliefs, and experiences would make you feel bad about. But you shouldn’t blindly trust your emotions because your beliefs might be incorrect and so you might respond inappropriately given the situation. As a result, your best approach is to always listen to your emotions but then respond optimally after understanding the situation and making the best decision possible as to what will most benefit you and the people you care about. It is a subtle difference between listening to and trusting your emotions, but it is a very, very important one for important times in your life where you will have to make critical decisions involving them.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


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