I follow my intuition, go with my gut, all that. The times I haven’t? Well, things didn’t exactly have what I would call an optimum outcome.
Does this mean I think, “Well, I feel this way, so it must be true!” is the way to go.
Not. Even. Close.
We get a lot of pushing to follow our feelings, trust our intuition, go with our guts — as if digested waste can think. The problem comes in with the misunderstanding of what “gut feelings” are for and how they work.
It’s not mystical, really.
The human brain is set up to gather and integrate data very quickly — so quickly that we’re doing so without thinking of it consciously. Think of catching a frisbee. It’s physics, and you can write the equations by which you perform the actions, but you’re not consciously figuring vectors when you see the disc coming at you. You just catch it. Doesn’t make it magic. But if you study the physics, you can describe the exact mechanism pretty clearly.
If you just go with your feelings without looking for facts, you’re running around with one eye poked out. You have no depth perception.1 You’re missing the other viewpoint, and it’s an absolutely necessary one to make sure you have a clear 3D picture of what’s going on.
I wanna digress a little bit and talk about facts. It’s basic and simple and people get it wrong all the time. If it happened, it’s a fact. If it hasn’t happened, it’s a theory or a prediction. If you hold a kitten over a working blender and open your hand, the prediction that it will fall in is actually not a fact. It’s a theory. It’s a theory that has a whale of a lot of evidence to point to the probability of kitten puree2, but it’s not a fact. We clear? Good.
So where does someone who finds her intuition a good tool get off lecturing about facts?
Simple. If you trust a feeling without digging for supporting facts, it will bite you. As Franklin Veaux wisely commented, “Just because I feel bad doesn’t mean someone else did something wrong.” If you feel bad, the fact is that you feel bad. Doesn’t prove a thing.
I’m gonna admit to a slight hypocrite moment here. Recently I made a business decision based on no facts I could find. I had taken a temp job that felt wrong — I mean, soul-suckingly, sleep-deprivingly bad. From a factual, logical point of view, the job was mostly positive. It got me a shot as some experience I would not have otherwise had, had more secure income than I’m used to as a freelancer, and several other good things. I decided to go on feelings and resign from that job. Yeah, it turned out quite well. I found other avenues to replace in the income and experience. But I cannot pretend for one second that I found appropriate backing facts before I made that decision. I tried, but at the time, the thoughts weren’t thinking. I can see now that taking a temp job with no specific end date or end to the project wasn’t going to work with my business plan, but that was hindsight in terms of my decision-making, and hindsight should be suspect because justification is easy at that stage.
What I didn’t do was fool myself. I didn’t pretend facts that I wasn’t seeing. I didn’t make anyone else responsible for how I felt.3 I didn’t fool myself that it was risky. The fact (it happened, so it’s a fact) of the positive outcome wasn’t some mystic anything. It was that I was not fooling myself about the risk and got my ass in gear in a big way to hustle and get the positive outcome I wanted.
This applies to relationships. If something happens where you feel bad or something feels “wrong”, you owe it to yourself to examine your feelings then look for facts.
Scared a Dear Love is gonna leave you? Well, are you scared for a genuine reason or not? What are the supporting facts? What, specifically has happened that says that it’s in the Dear Love’s character? Can you recall at least one (if not more) instance? If there’s nothing, your feelings are coming from somewhere else.
Is a Dear Love late home for the umpteenth time? Are you spinning out of control because you’re edgy about it? What are the facts of the matter? Not the supposition, not the extrapolation. What are the facts? Don’t know them?
Give it up. Go take a hot bath. Have a cup of tea. Think about something else for awhile.
Wait till you can get the facts.
1Which could lead to an interesting essay on ole Mr. Wednesday, but that’s not for a poly column.
2 This image was shamelessly stolen from a friend of mine. Ten points if you can find the essay. It’s a favorite to which I often refer.
3 ‘Cause… well, they aren’t.
7 thoughts on “Feelings are Not Facts”
I like the way you explain this I may use it to help this constantly hysterical friend of mine. I mean she’s not poly but I think it applies either way. Thanks.
Sounds better coming from someone else!
Checking facts BEFORE relationships is a good idea as well. If I had a dollar for every time I thought to myself “Oh, she’s just shy” instead of “She’s not really that into you”…. Well, I could buy an overpriced burrito at least.
I’m kind of with Peter on checking facts BEFORE you get into the relationship. Sometimes we start having those little feelings of “this is wrong” way before the relationship is even off the ground. Instead of sitting down and following the breadcrumbs to the truth of the matter, we allow our enthusiasm, our desire, our WANTING, overwhelm our good sense. A lot of the time, we don’t investigate, because following the crumbs to the truth just means we won’t get what we think we want.
I have *never* been wrong when I had the uneasy “gut feelings” in that sense and boy have I bitterly regretted it later on when it all went to shit. Because the facts were *always* all there in plain sight, if I had just gone looking.
Notice when I talk about intuition, Rainy, I say that it’s part of it. It’s just not ALL of it. A bad feeling is the signal to “Go look and see what’s REALLY going down!”
The times I’ve ignored my intuition and gone ahead anyway have rarely gone well. But to act without going and gathering the facts means I may be acting on the wrong thing.
The classic “feelings are not facts” example for me is that when people feel they are being attacked (in converastion, I mean; when it’s physical violence it’s easier to distinguish!), and feel they need to protect themselves against hostile forces. There is often no intention to attack actually in existence.
And the things people do in order to make themselves feel “safe from attack”, like withdrawing, explaining themselves, asserting their rights, “calling” the other person on their “hostility”, and so on, often seem like hostile or hurtful moves in themselves.
So you get a spiral where two of more people feel like they ate the victim and the wronged party, and nobody perceives or acknowledges their own role as a perpetrator.
I think you just described every internet argument in existance, Jenny.
I am usually a “go with my gut” kind of person. I don’t always have all the facts when I make a decision and I have to decide things sometimes without all the facts, so I trust my gut. Then I have no one but myself to blame over things.
After spending some years corroborating my feelings with the evidence, I’ve learned that my feelings are usually telling me something important–but not always what it seems like they’re telling me. For instance, there’s a certain positive feeling I sometimes feel about people, drawing me to them in a particular way with a particular energy. But though the feeling is positive, for me it is a big red flag! Over the years I’ve noticed that whenever I feel this way about a person, they are usually a very bad choice for me to get close to. The feeling alerts me to check for the evidence that by now is very familiar to me–and I always find that evidence, confirming that the person isn’t right for me. So although I’m listening to those feelings, what they tell me is in fact the opposite of what it might seem.