Tips to Trust on Your Feelings

unduhan-93One reason critical thinking books advise their readers to suppress feelings is the assumption that we cannot trust our feelings. Indeed, we sometimes spontaneously trust others only to find out later that we were foxed; we buy too much food when we are hungry; we book a holiday based on pleasant anticipation and later regret it.

Although there may be some truth to the claim that we cannot trust our feelings, suppressing them comes at a cost. As outlined in an earlier blog post, suppression has negative effects on self-control and on stress.

So the question for every critical feeler becomes: Are there instances where we can trust our feelings? If yes, can we develop rules of thumb for when we can trust our feelings and when we cannot? Here are three.

One rule of thumb is that we should take feelings seriously and not suppress them because they might be important signals. A bad conscience might indicate wrongdoing, and fear might signal danger. However, this is not a sufficient reason to trust feelings unconditionally.

A second rule of thumb is, “know thyself.” Feelings provide us with signals for what is going on in the world. When these signals are accurate, we can trust our feelings; when feelings are not proper signals, we cannot trust them. For example, we should have scruples when we do something wrong. That is, a bad conscience should reliably tell us that we made a mistake.

However, a hardened youth might lack such a conscience while a hypersensitive person may be too conscientious and experience scruples where most people do not. An impostor may even feel pride when he succeeded in deceiving a victim.

The hardened youth has to cultivate feelings that signal wrongness in the right situations and should in any case take scruples seriously.

Hypersensitive people, by contrast, may ask each time they have the feeling whether it corresponds to the severity of the wrongdoing, or whether a deed is wrong at all. It is decent to have a fine moral compass but we should still be able to live on even if we make minor mistakes.

Pride is often a trustworthy signal that we have done something well. Sometimes, however, pride comes up for the wrong reason, for example, when we succeeded in cheating another person or when we boast how much heavy drinking we tolerate. In these cases, we should “reprogram” our feelings such that successful cheating elicits a bad conscience instead of the “cheater’s high,” and the tolerance of heavy drinking is seen as a problem, not as an achievement.

“Know thyself” applies to fear as well. We should know whether we tend to fear too much or too little. Some individuals might fear too much in one situation (for example dangers related to their children) but too little in other situations (for example dangers related their work). Again, people have to adjust their fear-level to what is appropriate in a given domain or situation such that they can trust their feelings in the future.