The other week I noticed my wife regularly says, “It feels like…” to start a sentence that has nothing to do with a feeling – perfect… for teasing her, which I did… because “it feels like” the right thing to do. I’ll joke with something like “It’s a good thing it feels that way because thinking is a waste of time.” If my wife doesn’t start by saying, “It feels like…” I will ask, “But what does it feel like?” and she’ll respond, “It feels like you’re being a jerk,” which is fair, and in this case, “it feels like…” is an appropriate statement. Other times, it doesn’t make any sense: “It feels like we should be planning for the weekend,” or “It feels like we should be vacuuming today.” Now, if she said this because she felt bits of dirt on the floor, this is a true statement, but pretty much every time she says, “It feels like…” it should be an “I’m thinking…” situation. “I’m thinking” is what is happening and not “I’m feeling we need milk.” (me) “I’m so glad I married a Jedi in training because it’s so cool you never have to think, just feel. It’ll be scary driving places with you because you’ll have your eyes closed, but a Jedi’s feeling is much greater than observing and thinking.”
What’s crazy is now that I’m paying attention to it, a lot of people regularly say, “I feel…” when there’s nothing about the rest of the sentence that is a feeling. It makes me laugh because “It feels like” these people think saying “It feels like…” gives credibility to what they say: “How dare you think!” It’s like people are afraid of using their brain: “Yes, my brain says this, but my body speaks to me in such obvious ways. For instance, my nose is growing, which means I’m lying.” My wife and I joke about this now because it’s a habit she’s trying to break: “It feels like I should think more… nah, I must be feeling that wrong.”
I believe we all have gut instincts. Last week’s blog even mentioned that my gut was telling me I was heading into a bad situation. The problem is gut instincts can be confused with biases and fears, and need to be questioned. There’s a Brain Games experiment where people were shown a beautiful house, and at the end of the tour, they were told the house was being sold 200 thousand dollars less than market value because someone had been murdered there. As soon as this was said, some people started saying how they had felt something in the house. A few people even broke into tears… until they were told that there wasn’t a murder; it was a lie for an experiment. People “feel” things all the time that aren’t true. For my orientation day at teachers’ college, I had this strong sense that I shouldn’t be there. Ten years after graduating, guess who’s not doing anything with his teaching Masters. That being said, a lot of good came out of that choice and it helped me get to where I am, so was that a gut instinct or my hatred of school? Either can be true depending how I want to look at it. Feelings can be wonderful guides, but we have to be very careful with them. Have you ever met someone and it felt like they were a bad person? I have, and it was true… almost every time, and “almost” is a very important word there because sometimes what’s unfamiliar can be what throws us off. For instance, I’m currently listening to a Christian singer, Matt Mullins, who is very rock star tattooed up including a nasty neck tattoo. When I first saw his picture I was like “I have a feeling I’m not going to like this guy,” and then I loved him. It turns out he originally was in a post-hardcore metal band called Memphis May Fire, which is definitely not my style, but his solo Christian stuff is great (it’s soft like a puppy). Feelings about people and situations can be liars, so we need to be careful not to blindly disapprove of something. There’s a reason why the court system needs proof and not just an investigator’s hunch: “Lock this man away. Smith here has a feeling he’s guilty even though all the evidence says otherwise.”
Over the last few years I’ve discussed how feelings can be liars because we can feel angry when we should feel sorrow or we’ll feel guilt when there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Our brain/heart can play tricks on us, especially if we’ve been raised to react certain ways. Recognizing that feelings can be liars is very important for emotional health because we need to be keeping our emotions in check: Emotions can be wonderful guides or terrible liars. This is especially true for our “feeling” what we should be doing. For instance, I have met a lot of young people who don’t feel like working or they don’t feel like getting up, so they their responsibility. I’ve met a lot of married couples where one or both didn’t feel in love, so they ended it. When it comes to responsibilities, feelings don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I feel like changing my baby’s diaper; I have to or my baby will suffer. I may not feel like getting out of bed or exercising, but I have to if I want to be healthy. Sometimes if we push ourselves to start something we can eventually feel into it, but ultimately being responsible is more important.
In therapeutic communication skills, a popular statement is “I feel (blank) because/when (blank).” This is to help people recognize what they are feeling. Traditionally it’s supposed to be a true feeling like sad, mad, or overwhelmed(e.g. “I feel sad because…), but I recommend words like hurt, attacked, talked down to, betrayed, rejection, disrespected, unloved, and abandoned because that helps us recognize the experience we had. Either way, this “I feel” statement that is supposed to help communication can actually make it a whole lot worse. If one person says “I feel…” in theory it’s supposed to take the attack off the other person, but it doesn’t. This makes sense because if my wife says, “I feel angry when I’m not treated like a priority,” a statement without any “you” being included, I would still think and feel like I’m being blamed, which will naturally make me get defensive: “So I’m not good enough at making you feel like a priority?” And the fight has started even with this so-called therapy tool being used because a lot of traditional therapy tools are good in theory and not in practice – the problem of smart people with no real life experience. This makes me proud to not be smart and have life experience… wait, that doesn’t sound right.
This kind of “I feel” statement should only be used when both parties are ready to make an apology for the hurt the other person has felt and not be defensive. Notice I said “both parties” because when there is a conflict, it takes two parties. Typically, one side wants an apology and is too self-righteous to apologize, which is a passive aggressive mentality and very damaging to the relationship. In a proper apology situation, one person will say something like “I feel hurt when you…” or “I feel talked down to when you…” and the other person will pretty much copy what was presented adding, “I’m sorry you felt (e.g. hurt) when I…” Some people hate the apology including the “you felt,” part, but that is exactly what the other person is supposed to apologize for. How you experienced the situation is how you experienced it and could be different from others. Even if it’s something as obvious as, “I’m sorry you felt disrespected when I yelled at you.” If you felt disrespected, that’s what needs to be apologized for – your feeling disrespected. This is important because there is little chance the other person was trying to be disrespectful if they are now willing to reconcile. Besides, yelling is a sign of fear and defensiveness; it’s a natural body response for some people when they’re feeling threatened or they have too much stuff bottled up and it explodes out. Either way, the person yelling is likely yelling in response to a feeling they’re having sparked by something you’ve done, which you will also need to apologize for when it’s their turn to share. This could be something like “It feels like you see me as less than when you use that tone and look when you’re upset.” (other person) “I’m sorry it feels like I see you as less than when I use that tone and look when I’m upset.
To conclude this lesson on “feelings,” (I’m sorry if it felt long… because it is) we need to be careful to recognize the difference between thinking and feeling, understand that feelings can be wonderful guides or terrible liars that need to be kept in check, and that “I feel” statements need to be carefully used even though they are so popular in communication exercises.
This week may you be better at thinking and feeling at the appropriate times.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)