Growing up, I often heard the phrase, “Don’t trust your feelings!” as if feelings were some alien invader intent on destroying our lives. In truth, feelings are simply the chemical firings in our bodies that correlate with our assessments of situations. In a way, they are like breadcrumbs that can lead us to a deeper truth in any situation.
For example, when someone is lying to us, we hear their words but something just doesn’t feel right. It would be easy to dismiss these inklings under the banner of “don’t trust your feelings,” but that would block our conscious awareness of a flood of really important data. In a nanosecond, our brains have picked up on the subtle smell of the liar’s sweat, the way the liar quickly glanced up and to her left as she spoke, the stiffness of her body, the way she tried to stop looking stiff and the way her voice became momentarily strained. That nanosecond passed by so quickly that our linear logic did not perceive it.
Our emotional logic, on the other hand, did not miss a beat. It screamed out at us: “Don’t trust her!” This message may have flown in the face of our concept of this person as a truthful person, our desire for simplicity and our resistance to confrontation. We might opt to “not trust our feelings,” but it would not be wise.
Eurocentric cultures have a fierce bent toward linear logic and tend to devalue emotional logic. To many, even the phrase “emotional logic” sounds like a contradiction in terms. In truth, however, emotional logic is fiercely tied together. However, where linear logic is analog, moving along a straight connected line, emotional logic is like a digitally connected spiderweb. Each piece is logically tied to each other piece, linked together at multiple points, shooting in miraculous speed down into even our most primitive memories! When we slow the process down to a crawl, we can trace the logic line that was delivered to us nearly instantly as an emotion.
Emotional logic is not good or bad; it’s useful. Sometimes it leads us directly to wiser choices, like knowing not to trust a liar. Other times, it will lead us to greater understanding and greater confidence as it unearths false perceptions of ourselves.
There is a technique in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy called “The Downward Arrow” that captures a slice of this fantastic process. Here’s an example:
Rachel is a Public Relations case manager who frequently finds that she feels paralyzed in client presentations, even though she is exceptionally talented and well prepared. She can see no “logical” reason for her freezing up and swell of anxiety. She knows her stuff and she presents it well. But this freezing thing just keeps happening.
When pressed, Rachel can identify a swirly feeling in her gut that occurs when she has a client presentation. I asked her to put words on it. “Deficient,” was the label that came up for her.
Me: Rachel, what’s your biggest fear in this situation, whether rational or irrational?
Rachel: I guess that I’m going to say something stupid and make a fool out of my self.
Me: Ok, good job. Let’s do a Downward Arrow on that. “If I say something stupid it means that….”
Rachel: It means that the client will think I’m stupid.
Me: And if the client thinks I’m stupid it means that…
Rachel: I’ll lose the client.
Me: And if I lose the client it means that…
Rachel: My supervisor will lose confidence in me.
Me: And if my supervisor loses confidence in me it means that…
Rachel: He’ll fire me.
Me: And if he fires me it means that…
Rachel: I suck.
Me: And if I suck it means that…
Rachel: I’m not good enough.
(Boom. There’s the bottom line.)
Me: So tying the bottom to the top, “If I say something stupid, I’m not good enough.”
Now the linear logic gets to step in and fact check: That isn’t actually rational, is it? Everyone says stupid things sometimes, and she actually might not even make that mistake. In a nanosecond, emotional logic ran her roughshod through a lifetime of fears and showed her clearly that her anxiety was based on an untruth. Simply telling ourselves, “Well that’s silly,” or “Of course I’m competent!” only has temporary impact. Walking through the historic misperceptions, on the other hand, can lead us to a whole new, rooted and grounded, much less easily shaken confidence.
Try the downward arrow sometime when you feel stuck. You will likely know when you hit the bottom line. It will be some sort of global statement of being, often connected to “not good enough,” “not lovable,” “destined to fail” or something of that nature. Tie the bottom to the top and fact check yourself. I’d be happy to help! Just click on the Contact Tiffany tab and let’s talk. Let’s work together to move you from surviving to thriving!
“Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant.” – Maya Angelou