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Feeling versus Being

Here’s a mistaken belief I hear all the time from clients and Food and Feelings message board members: Because I feel a certain way, it must be true. I feel fat, I feel unlovable, I feel unsuccessful, I feel inadequate, I feel defective. Hello, feeling isn’t being.

I’m all for connecting with emotions and skillfully using them to navigate life, but when you say I’m feeling any of the above, what does that really mean? Do the preceding statements equal I am fat, I am unlovable, I am unsuccessful, I am inadequate, I am defective? Because that’s what you’re telling yourself. Where’s the proof? When people say they feel fat, they often mean their body feels heavy or their stomach is stretched out from eating or drinking too much. If a 100-pound adult eats a large plate of food and feels fat, does that make her fat? If a successful dancer goes to an audition and doesn’t get the gig, then feels like a loser, does that make it so?

Feeling something is fine; feeling you are something is not fine. My take is that you get caught up in internal misinterpretations of reality that are often way (way, way) off base. Feeling an emotion is acknowledging a transitory, sensory, internal state. For example, at 66, sometimes I feel young and sometimes I feel old. Neither of these sentiments changes the fact that I am 66. I’m not older when I feel ancient, nor younger when I feel like a spring chicken. Get my point?

Notice when you say “I feel this or that” in a way that states a fact. Stop and be clear that you’re not expressing truth, but merely tuning in to an affective impression. Learn to distinguish what is real from what is perceived. Too many of you build a life around grossly inaccurate perceptions rather than around what is real, true, valid, and evidence-based. You think that by saying you feel something in a strong way that you’re making a reality-grounded statement when you’re actually doing the opposite and mistaking subjective impression for objective truth. So, always ask yourself: Is what I’m saying true and, equally important, how do I know that?

Try this. Go to a website promoting anorexia. The people on these sites feel fat. Some are so painfully thin, it breaks your heart to see them. That is how feeling you are a certain way, rather than being it, corrupts your thinking. It’s fine to say that you feel sad, happy, disappointed or ashamed, but only use emotional descriptors when expressing an emotional impression that is transitory, not a state of being. Recognize the difference between a fleeting internal sensation and reality-based, evidence-backed fact.