“Emotions are Not to be Trusted!”

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Keith McCurdy
Keith McCurdy

“Pursue your passion,” “Do what feels right,” “Go with what makes you happy,” and many other similar statements seem to permeate our current culture.  I recently listened to a “Ted Talk” on that very subject by a young man who was making the claim in essence that if you pursue what makes you happy in life…..all will be good.

I just have one question; what if feelings can’t be trusted?

For years we have heard that we are feminizing our male children.  While very true, I think this misses the point.  The question is not whether or not our boys are being feminized, but whether or not we as a culture have been sold a bad product in the elevation of emotions in our daily life. We have set up the pursuit of a particular state of “feeling” as a noble goal when feelings themselves are inaccurate.

Inaccurate you say?  Here is a little example.  Imagine you are in New York City in the South Bronx having dinner with a friend.  You finish your meal and leave.  Your friend goes one direction and you go the other.  It is dark, cold, and you walk up the next alley to get into your car.  Just as you get to your car and you are fumbling with your keys, a group of angry looking men run up behind you and…..how would you feel?  Scared of course.

Now, imagine you are in your own home, in your own bed and you dream that scenario.  How would you feel?  You would feel the same emotions.  Have we all not woken up in panic after a bad dream?

Now let’s say you are at the movie theatre and something on the screen jumps and startles you…how would you feel?  Again, you would feel some sort of fright.

In New York in that scenario, you are in danger.  How about when you are in bed or at the theatre?  Of course not.  What our common experience of life tells us is that emotions/feelings are not accurate indicators of reality.  Feelings cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is fantasy.  With that being true, why would we ever want to set up pursuing a particular feeling or emotion as a goal?

When we do this, we create a world of chaos….parents afraid to parent because we believe our job is keeping our children “happy;” marriages struggling and ending because of a misbelief that relationships that are good should never experience difficulty; substance abuse and in some places legalization because it is alright to “feel good” if you want to; a legacy of entitlement based on the idea of keeping everyone cared for and happy….and the list goes on and on.

To truly function healthy in this world, we have to understand the proper place for emotion.  I will be the first to say that my own profession has added to the nonsense by elevating the importance of an individual’s emotional experience.  I will tell you “How do you feel?” is not half as important as “How are you living?” when attempting to help a person in anguish.

Yet, even in the very field designed to help folks navigate emotional turmoil, we often target the decrease of negative emotions as the goal rather than healthy living.  We have often become a profession more focused on providing comfort than Truth and direction.  One result being the over prescribing of psychiatric meds in every age bracket.  When our target becomes the absence of negative feelings, we ignore that the very nature of a healthy life includes pain and struggle.  Healthiness has nothing to do with an absence of discomfort or pain.

Not that long ago maturity was defined as doing what was best and right, regardless of how you felt about it.  This is a basic, foundational component in raising healthy children today and it stands directly opposed to the idea of pursuing happiness (a fleeting emotional experience that we can’t control).

Here are a couple ways of beginning to help your children with the transition to maturity.  First, expect them to do more, as well as things that require them to struggle and stretch a little.  Second, when they complain encourage them that it is normal to not always like what they have to do, but that they will survive it.  Third, walk away…..if you hang around they will think you want to hear more of their opinion or perceived anguish.

With regard to ourselves, we need to remember that our emotions are not a compass to life.  They should never direct our words or actions.