Feelings Are Not Facts

Feelings are not facts.

I have always had an obsession with “staying true to myself” (a fixation inevitably misguided through that tumultuous identity crisis phase of life called adolescence). To bolster that very egocentric obsession I made it my goal to identify each and every one of my current feelings. Sometimes a simple mental identification was not enough to satiate the irksome “who am I?” question scratching at my conscience, so I would try to preserve my emotional experience through art. As a young girl this meant poetry and diary entries. This meant falling prone to the vice of greed and using written word to further intensify feelings that, through hindsight and therapy, turned out to be not as idiosyncratic as I had liked to believe. This also meant wallowing in certain songs, scribbling lyrics out on lacerated notebook pages in class, impulsively imagining them tattooed one day. This meant drawing and painting and photographing anything and everything that felt like an expression of how I currently felt. Identifying feelings might be healthy in moderate doses, but being somebody with obsessive compulsive disorder I tend to gravitate towards all-or-nothing thinking. Moderation does not come easily. So, to no surprise, I overdid it when it came to treating feelings like end-all-be-all factual information.

Feelings can sometimes be factual, but this is certainly not always the case. In my experience I have found two major contradictions which highlight the underlying truth that feelings are not the same thing as facts.

First, feelings are transient. Feelings come and go just as our circumstances come and go. Any and every emotional state is fleeting, and to treat a mood such as outrage or excitement like a veridical truth that can substitute as an all-encompassing proverb would do a disservice to anybody undergoing either a positive or negative mood.
For example, if I am depressed about a literary rejection, feeling discouraged and dry on hope, I have every right to feel that way- but to mistake that feeling with a fact like “I am unworthy of publication” could lead to an unfair condemnation of “I do not deserve to live my dream as a published author” and end with “I have no rational choice but to give up on my dream.” Another, more relatable example is how, in our self-consciousness, we sometimes “guess” others’ opinions of us. If you have a bad hair day and feel insecure, you might distribute that feeling of insecurity outwards and let it pollute your perception of the world. One moment of eye contact with a peer in the hallway and you assume that they think you are ugly or unattractive. Just because you feel a certain way inside, does not mean you can mindread other people and say, for a fact, what an individual might think of you. This way of thinking could easily lead to many missed opportunities, unfair judgments, and unnecessary travesties.

The second contradiction in equating feelings to facts derives from the very human quality that you are capable of feeling more than one emotion at once, including ones that are polar opposite to each other.
We have more than one situation going for us in our every day lives, some bad, some good. For a long time I would undergo a sort of existential confusion when relaying information about my moods to therapists. For instance, I could not understand why I felt very confident and optimistic about the future while also feeling frustrated and sad about certain problem areas in my life. It took a simple “a-ha” moment of realizing that feelings are not facts to accept that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with me for feeling more than one contradictory emotion at once. It is possible to feel enthusiastic about a promotion and also deeply hurt about a strained relationship. It is possible to love and care about your well-being while still feeling shame over your imperfections. It is possible to be in a very grateful mood for all the laughs and joys of life while experiencing simultaneous bitterness around the shortcomings in your life. Humans are sentient beings capable of feeling more than one emotion at a time. That is a fact.

stitch myself up

To clarify, I am not saying that I no longer acknowledge or draw inspiration from my emotions- what I am saying is that I am no longer going to be a slave to my emotions and the muses that spawn from them. I will always love expressing myself artistically, and I will always tune into my emotions to be the aesthete I thrive in being- but I will be damned if I let a creative drive knock me down a peg in all of my social and spiritual growth. It has taken me a decade of mental health struggles to realize that wallowing in melancholy and solitude (at the expense of my youth and my relationships) is not the right path to go down. I say this as somebody who struggles with extremist tendencies- staying “true to yourself” does not mean focus all your energy into present emotions. Moderate that energy into feelings, thoughts, and instincts. I know we hear it all the time between culture to culture, but life really is better with balance.

So by all means feel, emote, and if you so desire then preserve a feeling in artwork, but give yourself the compassion you deserve and recognize when you are inflicting more harm than good by dwelling on past pains or nostalgia.

Feelings are not facts. That, is a fact.

– Valerie Parente (3-9-17)

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