Ignoring Your Feelings Might Lead to Your Greatest Mistake

When it comes to feelings, I’m not sure how you feel. (See what I did there?)

Maybe feelings seem wishy-washy and unpredictable to you. Maybe you don’t often recognize or understand how you feel. Maybe your feelings seem out of control most of the time, or perhaps, like my husband, you’d much prefer to talk about what you think than what you feel.

No matter what you think about feelings, it’s difficult to dismiss them completely. Whether we recognize it or not, our feelings are a major driving force behind the things we say, the decisions we make and the way we act.

Not only that, but our feelings have important information to offer us, if we can learn to listen to them.

They have to be meaningful, don’t you think?

Here’s the thing. I tend to be really in tune with my feelings. Part of it is I grew up with a psychologist for a dad—a fact which generally elicits the same list of questions:

  • “What was that like?”
  • “Does he try to psychoanalyze you?”
  • “Do you ever ask him to interpret your dreams?”

The truth is, it was really great. He was understanding about all kinds of things other dads weren’t, he interpreted my dreams every now and then (when I was brave enough to share them) and although he tried to psychoanalyze me at times, I picked up on his tricks pretty quick, and just psychoanalyzed him right back.

Two can play at that game.

Anyway, the biggest thing about having psychologist for a dad is I was always given permission to feel what I felt.

Whether I was angry, jealous, scared or sad, I was never required to pretend I felt anything else. In fact, we talked a lot about feelings in my family. Anytime there was an argument, a disagreement, or a disappointment, you can probably guess the question that was  asked:

“How does that make you feel?”

The good news about this was I learned, at a really young age, to be in tune with my feelings. To this day, if you ask me how something makes me feel, I don’t have a hard time telling you.

The bad news is, I’m learning lately, that knowing what you feel isn’t enough.

I keep thinking about this lately—about how important feelings are, but how confusing they can be too because they don’t always point me in the right direction. Sometimes, if I’m honest, I feel like drinking a whole bottle of wine in my room by myself at night. Most days, I feel like trading two of my meals for frozen yogurt.

Those feelings are all real. I feel them. But that doesn’t mean that I should act on them.

It doesn’t mean that they’re pointing me toward healing and health.

What does it mean? Well, I’m still trying to figure that out.

I was asking myself these questions recently when a friend confided in me that she feels like getting a divorce. “I’m not going to,” she reassured me, “but I today I really feel like it.” Then she added, “it sure feels good to say that out loud.”

Stories like hers make me think about how important and complicated feelings are and about how trapping it can be be to hide our feelings because we’re worried people won’t accept us if we admit them—

Or because we’re already having a hard time accepting ourselves.

But here’s the crazy thing: have you ever changed a feeling by keeping it to yourself?

I haven’t. In fact, some of the most extravagant mistakes I’ve made have been because I wasn’t admitting my own feelings to anyone else, or to myself.

I feel scared… so I push the people who care for me out of my life.

I feel sad… so I eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting.

I feel jealous… so I act passive-aggressive toward someone I love.

Can we all agree it’s necessary and important to be honest about what we’re feeling—first with ourselves, and then with someone else? There’s a certain release that comes, in my experience, with finally admitting how you feel about something.

But that doesn’t mean we should always act on our feelings. Am I right?

Just talk to me the morning after I’ve eaten a pint of ice cream or drank a whole bottle of wine. Sometimes my feelings steer me away from the solution to a problem.

Sometimes acting on my feelings makes everything worse.

And yet, our feelings are pointing to something. They might not point to what we wish they would, or what we think they do. They might not take us to an easy answer or a three-step solution to our problem.  ut they always point to something that is going on inside of us, they’re always sending us a very important message.

So the answer, if you ask me, isn’t to ignore our feelings or to act on them, necessarily.

But somewhere in the middle, we’ll find the peace we’re looking for, I think.

If we have the presence of mind to notice what we’re feeling, the courage to share it, the tenacity to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves where that feeling came from and how it got there—if we have the patience and grace for ourselves to wait for a solution…

I believe we will find it there.

22 comments on “Ignoring Your Feelings Might Lead to Your Greatest Mistake

  1. I really like this post- it’s as though confession gives us space to analyze our next step, allowing us something concrete instead of trying to navigate through our hundreds of emotions that will eventually pass.

    • There’s something powerful about confession. I think that’s why we’re urged to “confess our sins, one to another…” (James 5:16) not to enable us or to shame us, but to heal us.

  2. We’re told to follow out hearts and our feelings, even though that often is a bad idea – people need a sounding board. Often, once I’ve just talked out loud, things make a lot more sense, even when the other person has no advice to give!

    • So true, Matt. That’s why I think listening is the best gift that we can give people. Makes sense to me why we’re called to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

  3. Wow, wow, wow! Yes, I needed this today for sure. Emotions are such a big problem in my life sometimes. I’m up and down, up and down, ALL the time. I could always use the reminder that one, there is nothing wrong with my feelings, and two, but that doesn’t mean I act upon them either. Thanks Ally! Bless you, girl!

  4. This is really good. A small example in my life of this right now is when I ‘feel like a boyfriend’. (which sounds ridiculously nonchalant and like I’m talking about ice-cream! Anyway). It hasn’t been a year from my last relationship yet, and I want to be single for a while to fully heal. Yet we all get lonely at times and this is when I want a boyfriend. I have been able to pinpoint that I don’t in fact want a boyfriend, I just want attention or cuddles, etc. It’s important to acknowledge WHAT you feel and then WHY you feel it to know exactly what’s going on.

    • Micaela — that’s such a great example. I’m really thankful you shared it here. “Feeling like a boyfriend” isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but dating a guy who isn’t right for you just because you don’t feel like being alone probably won’t get you what you’re really looking for.

  5. Yes, yes, yes! Great article and very applicable in our lives. I am learning to give my 17 year old as much permission to feel as I do the women in my life that come to be about adultery in their marriage. I am finding that the more I listen to his feelings without trying to fix him, the less he is acting on them. I pray many read this piece and start long before I have done. Thank you for opening up this subject!

  6. I’ve always loved the expression, “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.” My friends and I quote it to each other whenever we talk about relationships and other personal struggles in our lives. It’s great to be in tune with our feelings, but the advice that our hearts always know best have led a lot of people to make some terrible decisions because our hearts, it turns out, aren’t always in the right place. We have to think through the ramifications of what our hearts feel inclined to do, even when it feels impossible.

  7. Absolutely loved this, Ally. I’m an introvert and am notorious for not being able to share my feelings very well…because I’m always trying to figure out what exactly I’m feeling! Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection” really helped me with giving myself room to feel and being ok with that. And I started seeing a counselor about a year ago, which one of the best decisions I ever made.
    Thanks so much for sharing your insight and experience!

    • Ryan, I’m proud of you for sharing your feelings, even when it doesn’t feel comfortable. It takes a lot of courage to do that and the irony is that talking about out feelings (even when we don’t understand them) is what helps us to understand them better.
      Glad the post resonated with you and hope to see you around here in the comments section more often!

  8. Thank you for this post! 🙂 But how do you become at peace with what you’re feeling once you’ve admitted to yourself how you really feel?

  9. I love what you write and post. It is always so impacting to my life!! Thank you!! By the way I really enjoy working with your sister at Westside!

  10. Great wisdom – thank you for sharing! Still working on choosing not to act on my “feelings” to eat enough ice cream to choke a horse or to say something hurtful that I should just keep to myself!

  11. So true. Our feelings are not to be ignored, but they are not always to be acted on either. God gives our feelings, but He is greater than our feelings. They are temporary, He is permanent.

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