Feelings aren't truths
December 09, 2018
When we're in love we feel amazing and we tend to think the person we're in love with is uniquely suited to be with us. We believe they are irreplaceable.
It takes a failed relationship (or several) to realize that this absolutist mindset is a built-in feature of love. It's part of the diagnosis. It's part of Nature's design of the emotion we call love.
It turns out that making two people feel amazing about a relationship and feel as if their partner is absolutely unique and irreplaceable is a pretty good way to ensure those two people stay together and eventually reproduce.
Hunger evolved to motivate us to get off of our asses long enough for us to find nourishment for our bodies. Love evolved to motivate us to find and stay with a mate long enough to produce offspring offspring.
Love and hunger are human drives and they go hand in hand with their own sets of emotions. Hunger may lead to frustration, annoyance and even anger. Unreciprocated love may lead to sadness, anger or despair.
Any of these accompanying emotions will follow a simple cycle. The emotion will manifest itself and it will pass. Everything we feel always comes and passes. When you're angry, you're never angry forever. You're angry until it passes. This also happens to be a fundamental tenet of Buddhism: impermanence. No emotion lasts forever.
It sounds so obvious and so simple, the problem is: we forget. When we feel sad, we forget that in a couple of hours we almost certainly will not feel sad. When we're angry, we forget that in a couple of days we will probably have stopped caring.
When we are consumed by an emotion we are disconnected from the present moment. It is this disconnect that causes us to forget that the experience we are in does indeed have an ending. After all, all emotions come to an end.
We're not really aided by Nature here, as it's more like a feature than it is a bug, for thoughts and emotions to take us out of the present moment. If emotions didn't take you out of the present moment, they wouldn't be very convincing motivators.
Another way of looking at this is that you can either be:
- Inside the emotion where you forget about time and are unaware that you are in a transient experience, or,
- outside the emotion where you can be the observer to what you are feeling.
We get into traitorous territory when we are inside the emotion. When the emotion is bigger than we are, where it consumes us and it fools us. We forget about time and we BELIEVE the thoughts that pass through our mind. This is the realm we might describe as "I am angry".
When we can observe the emotion and hold it in our awareness by creating some space around it, our relationship to it changes. We can remind ourselves of its impermanence and we can question whether we should believe the thoughts that arise in this state. This is the realm we might describe as "I feel angry."
The same applies to the feeling of love. When inside the feeling of love, your ex becomes "the one" and you "cannot live without her" and you "will never find anyone like her." When you hold your thoughts in awareness and become the observer she might "feel like she is the one" and it may "feel like you cannot live without her" or "feel like you will never find anyone like her." The same emotion is felt, but when we're the observer, we can simultaneously feel and realize that the emotion is transient and doesn't represent a truth about reality.
When we lose the ability to stand outside of our thoughts and to observe them we come to believe the stories they tell us. Pscyhologists call this emotional reasoning, because we treat our emotions as facts and use them to arrive at a conclusion. But our emotions are not facts, and if we treat them as such, the conclusions we arrive at will not correspond with reality.
You may love someone that isn't good for you for a myriad of reasons. If you choose to believe your emotions, which tell you they are the right person for you, you may be setting yourself up for unnecessary, repeated rejection and heartbreak.
Similarily your emotions may tell you someone is right for you that doesn't love you back, or someone who is abusive towards you, or someone that simply isn't committed to you.
If you treat your emotions as facts, you will keep pursuing a path even when it is detrimental to your own wellbeing.
Just because it FEELS right doesn't make it right.
I remember a Skype conversation with my mother after my first breakup in college. I was in a deep and dark place at the time and I called her up in tears. I could not stop crying. I remember saying about my ex-girlfriend: "Mom, she's my soulmate.”
At the time, I "knew" this to be true. She "was" my soulmate, there wasn't a cell in my body that doubted it.
It turned out, however, not to be the case.
I had arrived at a belief which I held to be true via by emotions rather than reason and evidence. It felt true — but it wasn't.
There's value in listening to your emotions, but you should treat them more like a signal of what is going on inside of you, not as established facts. The fact may be that your ex is romantically involved with someone else, that they've shown no indication that they still have feelings for you and that you have no indication that this might change.
You might still FEEL like she is the one and you might FEEL there is hope. But your feelings aren't facts, and there may be no chance at all that you're getting back together. Your feeling is simply a signal of what is going on inside of you: You are still in love, you long for her, you feel like you belong together and you crave being with her -- but that doesn't make those things true.
This also doesn't mean that all your decision-making should be entirely fact-based and completely rational. Through activities such as self-inquiry, journaling and meditation you can become more aware of the different voices that manifest themselves within yourself. You can listen to the voice of your inner child, the voice of a wiser version of yourself or a strong gut feeling and let their wisdom guide you.