11 May 2007

Emotions (Feelings) Are Facts

I remember being annoyed when people would express their feelings. Thinking, come on, let's drop this soft stuff and get on to something concrete.

It turns out that feelings and emotions are concrete facts. However, it is important that they be accurate and expressed properly.

When someone starts a sentence with "I feel..." what follows is very important. Often true feelings are being expressed, and, perhaps just as often, an opinion is being expressed in a false soft manner.

Here are some examples to show what I mean:
1. I feel sad - Good sentence, expressing a feeling
2. I feel attacked - Good sentence, expressing a feeling, possibly received as accusatory
3. I feel that he said to go right - Bad job on this one. This is an opinion veiled as a feeling.

A feeling expresses a genuine emotion, so what follows after the word feel is an adjective--a descriptive word linked with your emotional state. In general though, if the word feel is followed by the word "that" it is an expression of an opinion.

Let me repeat that. if the word feel is followed by the word "that" it is an expression of an opinion.

Do you see the difference? If you could replace the word feel with the word think in your feeling statement, you are out of the realm of feelings--into your head and out of your heart. Try that with the three examples above.

Now to continue with the concept that emotions are facts. When someone says to you, "I feel scared," they are telling you a fact about their state of mind or emotion. You may feel contempt for that person, you may think that their fear is irrational, but what they have given you is a fact and you must treat it that way.

By the way, a lot of people use the word feel to express an opinion. Even Dr. Phil says it all the time. At the risk of delving into "Grammar Girl's" realm, I believe that this usage should be avoided.

One final comment on this topic. Through the years, I have heard people say, "Perception is reality." Perception is often used as a proxy for reality, but it is not necessarily a true reflection of reality. Feelings are facts; the perceptions that drive them may not be. If a person says, "I am afraid to go on elevators." It does not mean that, in any objective sense, elevators are dangerous. Many people lose sight of this and assume that because they have a feeling, it must reflect the reality of the situation. This perception-is-reality thinking can drive people and society to bad decisions. Feelings are simply a person's interpretation of some objective reality. That interpretation is filtered through everything they are.

On to Communication 101>>>>>


  1. Be careful with this one. People with personality disorders can express thoughts, feelings and opinions that have no connection with reality. There are people who express and project feelings onto other people that have no basis in reality.

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    I see two ways of understanding your comment. The first is that you are saying that people with personality disorders might be lying about their feelings. If that's the case, I completely agree with you. Just because someone says they are sad does not mean that they are actually sad. Simply saying something does not make it a fact. Only the actual feeling is fact.

    On the other hand, if you mean that people have feelings that seem disconnected from your perception of their reality, I do not agree with what you're saying.

    If I say, "I feel sad." That is a fact (assuming I'm not lying). You may believe that I do not have a valid basis or reason for feeling sad (therefore my feeling is not connected with reality). That does not change my feeling of sadness.

    I get the sense that you are speaking from experience here. Can you give an example?