Feelings And Reality

How much should we believe what we feel? Should we take how we feel about others, and about our situations, as factual information?

We all have feelings, that's one of the wonderful things about this life on Earth. Our emotions add tremendously to our living experience. We can feel joy, happiness, elation, excitement, relief, triumph, love, and many more. Emotions also help us navigate life, warn us of impending danger, and help us get out of bad or dangerous situations. They paint our daily basic living with a rainbow of color. Instead of simply surviving from one day to the next, we live. We feel alive!

Of course as with all things, there are some snags to having this gift of emotion. We can get caught up in them and leave logic behind. We can feel overwhelmed by them and make mistakes, or become frozen and unable to move forward. We can make serious missteps, even crimes, when following them. We can even come to be controlled by others who are pushing our "buttons" of emotions.

So, how can we tell when our emotions are leading us in the right direction, or the wrong direction? Especially since they seem to do both?

The answer here lies not in following our hearts, but in learning about ourselves and the way our feelings actually work. We don't actually just feel according to the reality around us, we feel according to how our brains interpret and perceive what's going on around us.

Fear is a common emotion that we humans tend to believe as representing fact. For example, if we fear spiders, we tend to believe they are all actually dangerous, or even deadly. Only a handful of spider species out of thousands in the whole world are actually dangerous to humans. The odds of being hurt or killed by another human are far, far higher than injury or death by a spider. We believe our fear, regardless of reality.

Here is a brief representation of three brothers experiencing a spider.

>When Jay sees a spider, he feels a very faint "startle", but then immediately feels the calm, pleasant excitement of fascination. Still feeling caution, he will carefully investigate the spider, and if it's inside, he will either leave it alone, or put it in a container and put it outside. He feels a respect for the life of the creature, and concern for its survival and well being.
Iraqi Camel Spiders camel-spiders.net
>Jay's brother John, when seeing the same spider, also feels a slight "startle", but then immediately feels fear. John also feels respect for the life of the creature, so he calls his brother Jay and asks him to remove the spider and put it outside.
>Jay and John's brother Joseph also feels a slight "startle" upon seeing the same spider, and also immediately feels fear. Joseph's fear triggers an additional emotion: embarrassment. When Joseph feels fear, he feels embarrassed. In a chain reaction, Joseph's embarrassment then triggers a feeling of resentment. So Joseph's feelings upon seeing the same spider are compounded. Joseph then feels overwhelmed, and he believes that the spider is the cause of his overwhelming feelings. Because he has blamed the spider for emotional overwhelm, he also feels like the spider has actively made him feel this way, and feels angry. Since Joseph has not learned to separate his emotions one another, or from his actions, he follows along with his compounded feelings and tries to kill the spider, as if in self-defense. Even though the spider is just sitting there, probably trying to be invisible, or waiting to find a bug, Joseph feels like the spider wants to hurt him.
>Jay and John stop Joseph from killing the spider, and try to explain to Joseph that the spider is not a real threat to him, but Joseph has no interest in their explanation; he is invested in believing that his emotions are correct. Joseph believes his feelings represent fact and reality.

We can apply the example of the spider to other situations. Another commonly believed emotion is anxiety.

>Jessica has lost her job. She is low on money, and has not found another job. Her rent is due, and her bills are piling up. Jessica looks forward to finding another job and paying her bills back down, and she has explained to her landlord what has happened. Her landlord gives her a "hard time", but Jessica doesn't mind much, she is aware that her landlord has a bit of a controlling streak. Jessica's focus is on getting another job, and she fondly hopes that her new job will be better than the last one. Jessica's feelings about her situation include calm caution, a low level of disappointment, excitement, and hopefulness.
>Jessica's cousin Juliet has also lost her job. She is also low on money and her rent is due. Juliet feels worried about getting behind on her bills and is experiencing some anxiety. She believes she will find another job before too long, but she worries that it will not be as good as her last one, and that she may not find one close to where she lives. She has not told her landlord because she wants to avoid her landlord's emotional reaction. Juliet's feelings about her situation include worry, anxiety, and disappointment, but also a measure of hopefulness.
>Jessica and Juliet's cousin Jocelyn has also lost her job. She is also low on money, and her rent is due. Jocelyn is very worried that she will not be able to find another job, and that she will be evicted from her apartment when her landlord finds out. She has put in some applications, but her anxiety is spilling over into social anxiety, and she can't seem to bring herself to apply at places where the people seem less than friendly. She feels raw, fatigued, and overwhelmed, so the abrasiveness of some impolite strangers increase her anxiety. Jocelyn's anxiety is compounding upon itself, and causing serious fatigue. She is so overwhelmed with it that she is having a hard time seeing past it. The world seems like it is closing in on Jocelyn; she is believing that her anxiety represents objective reality.   

All three of these cousins are in the same situation at this point in time. However, their lives have not been identical all through the years. All three have survived serious situations and terrible circumstances. However, they do not have the same brains. They also do not have the same set of friends, the same childhoods, or the same family support (or lack thereof). They each have different repeated experiences of how others tend to treat them according to their physical appearance in which they have no control over. Each has also put a different amount of effort into learning how to manage their emotions, and learning how to deal with other people.

Their experiences in life up to this point have helped to shape the way their emotions manifest in reaction to different situations, and very importantly, how much of their feelings they believe as representing reality.
Jocelyn's belief in her situation being dire serves to increase the anxiety she already feels. Joseph's compounded feelings about the spider serve to further convince him that his emotions represent reality, and that his brothers don't understand him or care enough about him to protect him.

We can apply this to other people in our lives as well. The trick that our emotions play on us regarding other people is that we tend to feel warmly toward people who seem to accept us, look up to us, and stroke our ego. We tend to recoil against people who we feel envious or jealous of, who don't seem to like us, or who stand up to us when we are acting discourteously.
What we seem to ignore about other people is their actual behavior and actions.
We will remain friends with a person who has acted with obvious disrespect or betrayal toward another person, or even toward ourselves, if we have already decided we like them because they have invoked certain pleasant emotions inside of us for some reason. We may even make excuses for their misdeeds, and defend their "good intentions".
We will, however, often reject a person who has not shown any real sign of untoward, traitorous, or abusive behavior toward anyone, simply because we feel envy or jealousy toward them, or perhaps arrogance toward them. We will even make excuses and fictionalize "reasons" why they aren't worthy of our approval or friendship.

In both cases, we are in compliance with our own emotions about the other person. But we are ignoring reality. We act as if what we feel is an accurate representation of the other person's behavior and character, when in fact, that is far from the truth. Our own emotions act as a kind of veil in front of our eyes when we look at the other person.

Our emotions are a wonderful gift that add to our experience of life, help us to see new things, and help us to navigate and learn. When we are able to embrace them as enhancements to our experience, rather than representing actual straightforward reality, we will find that we have greater freedom and understanding of the world and the people around us.