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Stories from a life in progress.

Feelings never lie

An idea I've mentioned in my writing now and then is that feelings lie.  That you can't always trust them to tell you the truth.  That if I feel like (to use a recent example) I will never be a successful writer, I need to disregard that feeling and do the necessary work for success anyway.

I think I have been doing my feelings a disservice.  I don't think they lie at all.  I think I just misunderstand how they work.

A saying I try to remember is that emotions are gauges, not guides.  They are like the instrument panel in your car, the speedometer and the rev counter and the gas gauge.  Just like these instruments tell you important things about how your car is running, emotions tell you about how your body and self are running.  They're not like the GPS -- emotions aren't good at telling you what you should do next.  But they provide information you definitely need in order to keep going, in any direction.

Gauges of all kinds are only useful if they are accurate.  Anyone who has driven a car with a wonky gas gauge can tell you this.  Do I really have a quarter of a tank left, or am I actually running on fumes?...

So if emotions are gauges, they're only useful if they are accurate.  If my speedometer lies to me about how fast I'm driving, I might be in for a really expensive ticket, if not an accident.  If my emotions are lying to me about the condition of my body and self, then I am in trouble.  I can't rely on them to help me know what I need or what I have to do next.

It's a serious thing, you see, to accuse emotions of lying.  If they are so untrustworthy, it would be better to discount them completely in making decisions.  Fortunately, I don't think feelings lie.  I don't think it's necessary to become a Vulcan and rely only on logic to make decisions.  (This is a big relief, because I am such a sensitive, gut-feeling sort of lady.)

Today I'm thinking of emotions as if they are kids -- young and honest kids.  They're innocents.  They are uncritical thinkers.  They will take in whatever they're told and believe it is true, because they can't conceive of anyone not telling the truth.

It's not my feelings that lie, you see.  I'm the liar, deep inside myself, and my feelings hear the lies I speak and react to them honestly.

If I feel afraid that I will never be a successful writer, it means that inside myself, I'm not convinced I can succeed.  I may even be certain, somewhere deep inside, that I absolutely won't.  And if that were true, it would be a really sad thing.  It would be painful to experience.

I don't hear myself speaking this lie, because it is buried so deep.  It doesn't make it into my conscious thinking.  But my feelings hear it.  They really are like kids, in that they have an uncanny way of hearing things you didn't think they would (or don't really want them to).  They hear the deep inside part of me say "I will never be a successful writer."  They accept it as truth, because they are trusting, unquestioning things.  They respond appropriately, with sadness and fear.  And then I wonder why I feel despondent about my chances of becoming a professional writer, and abuse my emotions for "lying" to me about the possibility and making it so hard to do what I need to do.

It's not the emotions who are lying.  It's me.

If I'm understanding all of this correctly, what my emotions are like, then they are far better allies than I give them credit for -- they can be some of my best allies, in fact, and I've already started using them as such without articulating why they are so valuable until now.

Emotions hear the deepest parts of me, you see, the parts that my conscious mind doesn't.  They hear the lies first.  They are in touch with the parts of my heart that are convinced bad things are going to happen, or that I am not worthy of success and other good things which really could happen.

When I feel despondent, it's because my emotions are responding to some deep lie.  If I notice that and use the opportunity to dig into why I feel that way, the feeling can lead me down to the lie, so I can look at it straight on and challenge it.

I'm never going to be a successful writer?  Who says that's true?  There are no facts to support it, and my feelings and I don't have to believe it.

More and more often my journal pages fill up with challenges to the lies inside my heart, or at least recognition of the lies, whether or not I have the strength to argue with them on any given day.  Examining how I feel about something gives me the first clue as to where I should dig, to reveal the crumbling, unsound parts of my foundation so I can build them strong, build them with real truth.

Feelings never lie, but I do.  I'm glad I have such honest allies to help call me on it.