As we transition through the phases of recovery, one thing is certain: we will experience feelings that have been stuffed or repressed, perhaps for years. This is supposed to be a good thing, even though it doesn’t always feel good. In fact, as we progress in our treatment or therapy, we are encouraged to pay attention to our feelings and to the sensations which these emotions bring about in bodies as well. We are taught to be mindful of these things as often they act as triggers. Yet often in 12-Step meetings, and in various articles on the internet, it has been stated that feelings are not facts. This is both true and false.
When we experience a feeling, like anger or anxiety, it is in fact very real. What may not be real is our perception of reality. It is possible that our own thoughts may be the problem. Sometimes feelings are a response to the accurate perception of external stimuli — sometimes not. If a person feels anxious about a situation, for example, the anxiety is a fact. The element which may not be factual is the possibility that the feeling of anxiety is related to the perception of a future unpleasant outcome. The precognition of negative outcomes can produce a feeling which may affect behavior in advance of the actual situation, which may or may not, be unpleasant when it occurs.
Feelings give us an opportunity to ask ourselves very important questions in order to challenge our own perceptions. Upon experiencing an emotion, we may examine: ‘why am I depressed right now?’, ‘what is making me angry?’ or ‘what is this fear about?’ These types of questions inform us of many things. Sometimes they have to do with past trauma which feels very real for us right now, but have nothing to do with the present situation. Other times, the feelings are a normal reaction to something that might provoke the same response in just about anybody.
Emotions are generally said to include a type of ‘call to action’ response, but the appropriate response may vary. Feeling angered or shamed at an overt slight or insult by another person may be normal, the correct response however, may be highly individualized. Say, if anger or defensiveness are core issues for someone, quickly acknowledging and processing the emotion felt at that moment may involve stepping back and not reacting. On the other hand, if a person tends to be passive or shame based, being aware of the feeling at the time it is happening and stepping forward by setting a boundary or speaking up for themselves may be the right course of action.
There are times too when our perceptions may be totally accurate. We may be feeling fear because a present or future situation actually is fearsome or unpleasant. In that case, the feeling is actually fact. Dismissing our emotions with over simplified slogans such as, ‘feelings are not facts’ is a great way to reinforce stuffing our feelings, the idea being that our feelings are unimportant. People who have been abused or invalidated, have had it made clear to them throughout their lives that their feelings don’t matter.
Our feelings tell us all sorts of things, they can inform us about a correct course of action; they can inform us of our past & how we can heal in the present by acting differently. Feelings can guide us in where we may need to make amends or they can show us were we are being irrational and maybe find humor in the situation. Feelings, when paid attention to and processed accurately, can provide us an appropriate course of action, as when an employment situation or relationship is making us unhappy.
Because feelings almost always tell us something about ourselves and can direct us to the changes we need to make, they must not be ignored. The fact is that when you have a feeling, you are indeed having a feeling, and that feeling should tell you something. Even if what it is telling you is based on an incorrect assumption, you are being given an opportunity to challenge the thought, change the assumption, and act yourself into new thinking — which will produce another, maybe different feeling.
The word ‘fact’ has been defined as: “a thing that is indisputably the case” or “something that actually exists; reality; truth” or “something that has actual existence”. If those definitions are true, then statements such as: ‘I am angry right now’ or ‘I am experiencing depression as the result of my recent divorce and separation from my children’ or ‘I have been traumatized by abuse’ are all factual statements. While it may be true that perception does not always equal reality — feelings on the other hand, may sometimes indeed be facts.