WHAT YOU THINK AND WHAT YOU FEEL ARE NOT THE SAME
A problem shared by most people is using the words “think” and “feel” interchangeably. Probably because few individuals ever learned the distinction between the two. Consequently, they say, “I feel you’re angry and looking for a fight.” Ask yourself, is that a thought or a feeling? I believe it’s a thought. Here is another example:
A patient said to me, “I don’t know if therapy is working. Since we started coming, we argue more than ever. I came to argue less.”
I understood where he was coming from, but explained to him that if therapy prompts people to more openly and readily communicate even their discontent or irritation, it’s doing its job by providing them with something to work on. They can learn how they deal with issues, how they could have dealt with them and how much better they might feel about themselves by dealing with them differently in the future. Conversely, when patients come to a therapy session saying, ‘everything is fine’, there isn’t much to discuss.”
He said, “Not in my house. Let me tell you what happened the other night. We went to a dinner with three couples I know from business whom we’re planning a trip with. Not like a bunch of college kids planning a reunion in order to get drunk and hash over old times, but the first really adult trip we’ve ever planned. It could be the trip of a lifetime. We got there and everything was going great. Then my wife leaned over and said, ‘You know, we have to leave early, because I forgot to pick up bread and sandwich meat to make lunch for the kids tomorrow.’ I’m sure she heard the disgust in my voice, although I doubt the other couples were privvy to our exchange. For the rest of the evening, I avoided her and just focused on the other people. But she knew I was angry and the evening was ruined. Finally, we said we had to leave early because of the baby sitter. After we got in the car, I told her what I felt.”
“What did you tell her?” I asked.
“I told her I was furious. She worked out early that day, then left work early so she could get in another workout. The night before, she went to class after work and was supposed to pick up stuff for lunches, but didn’t because it was raining. She had plenty of time to take her classes, go to work and exercise. The kids and I just didn’t matter. I said ‘a good mother would have thought of those things.’ That’s when she blew up and I just kept quiet. I don’t like to argue, because I don’t know what to say. What do you think about all this?”
My answer was, “You didn’t tell her anything about what you felt.”
He said, “You didn’t listen”, and repeated the story.
Again I said, “None of your statements were your feelings. You don’t have feelings because your partner does or doesn’t pick up groceries. You have feelings because ‘I feel something’, not because ‘she did something’. Second, you can’t express feelings when you use the word ‘you’, because if you’re using the word ‘you’, you’re talking about the other person. All you did was tell her your thoughts about her. How bad she was, what her shortcomings are and how inadequate she is.”
“Don’t you think I had a right to tell her those things?”
“Yes, but it’s not a matter of right or wrong. Even though I confess that, on too many occasions, similar to countless other spouses, I’ve been too quick to find fault with or put my wife down. The purpose being to keep them, figuratively speaking, ‘barefoot and pregnant’. It’s not intended to hurt your spouse, it’s more an attempt to cripple her in order to keep her dependent on you. It is behavior that stems from your own fears and feelings of insufficiency, none of which you’re willing to recognize or able to express. Over the long run, it only causes a spouse to be resentful instead of dependent.”
“In contrast, think how much better you might have felt if, after you got in the car, you had said, ‘I know my demeanor at the restaurant was pretty negative and I’m sorry. What I’d like you to understand is that I felt tremendous excitement over going on our first adult trip together, but I didn’t think that you cared as much as I did. I thought that, if you cared, you would have picked up the stuff at the grocery store yesterday morning, before you worked out, or you would have said, ‘The hell with the rain’ and gotten it the night before. You could even have asked me. I would have gotten it. Truthfully, I didn’t feel I mattered to you. I felt rejected and hurt, but was too embarrassed and scared to tell you, because you might have said, ‘You’re right, I don’t care’, and that would have devastated me.”
“I could never have gotten in touch with all that.”
“That’s the reason for talking about the problems. By talking about them, you learn that you’re not totally in touch with your feelings. Most people aren’t.”
“I seem to be pretty much in touch emotionally with everybody else. I just wish I could be with her.”
“Unfortunately, most individuals are far more in touch with their feelings when they interact with people they don’t share an intimate relationship with.”
“That’s easy. They can’t hurt you as much.
You might also learn you may not have the courage to risk being vulnerable and, possibly most important of all, that you’re an emotionally dependent person. It’s a problem that stems from feeling you’re not worthy of being loved. But, your spouse didn’t cause this, you entered your marriage that way.”
He responsed, “Isn’t everybody that way? Doesn’t everyone need to be loved?”
“About 90% of them”, I answered.
“Then, it doesn’t matter.”
“That’s not so. Let me give you an example. Do you like pancakes?”
“So do I”, I said. “Come over to my house. I have suitcases filled with them. Now that’s a little crazy, isn’t it? But there’s a message: What you feel doesn’t matters. All feelings are childish, impulsive, or inappropriate. What does matter is the extent and the way you react to them. But, no matter what they are, you have to be able to share them. However, it’s essential that you package them palatably, by adding how much you care, not how inadequate they are. You see, thoughts come from your head, but feelings can reach someone’s heart.”