224 - Feelings Are Not Facts

An expression we’ve used on the show in the past is “feelings are not facts.” It’s been somewhat controversial so we decided to dedicate an episode to exploring that it really means and how a better understanding of the inner workings of thoughts and feelings can benefit our lives.

Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.

Our theme music is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand.

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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we're talking about the popular and 'oh so' memeable phrase, feelings are not facts. In relationships and in life, it's easy to have emotional responses to challenging interactions or situations. What if our interpretation of events isn't actually true, or put another way isn't actually reality? We will talk about what this phrase means, what can happen when we do think that our feelings are facts. We're going to talk about emotional intelligence a little bit.

Dedeker: Can I just jump in?

Jase: Please.

Dedeker: I just kind of want to get this out of the way. I know the three of us first started talking about this a few years ago when I was on a panel.

Jase: We sat in. Yes, I was trying to remember like the origin of it on this show before that.

Dedeker: I’ve definitely mentioned it before, but this is the time that sticks out in my memory, anyway. Is that I was on a panel and I brought up this notion of, feelings are not facts. Someone else on the panel disagreed and he was very much, "No, no, no. I think feelings are facts." The irony is I think we were both right, is the thing.

Jase: You're kind of talking about different things.

Dedeker: I’m talking about different things.

Jase: You're nickelbacking. You’re switch-tracking.

Emily: No. They were switch-tracking.

Jase: Well, yes.

Dedeker: This person was switch-tracking, but whatever. Well, so what we'll get into in this episode is more talking about your experience of your feelings. How they can influence your decision-making and your thoughts and maybe how to not take them quite as seriously as a cold hard fact. What the other person was talking about when he was saying, "No, feelings are facts," was I think this idea of, if say your partner comes to you and is saying, "I'm feeling sad," or, "I'm feeling violated," or, "I'm feeling disrespected," it is a fact that they felt that.

You don't get to dismiss that or to gaslight them, or to tell them, "No, no, no, no, no. You misunderstood. You shouldn't have felt that way." It is kind of this funny thing where it's like, yes, it is a fact that someone feels their feelings, those feelings themselves may not be facts. That sounds like a weird co-on perhaps, but we'll dive more into it a little bit later.

Jase: Well, I want to propose maybe a distinction to make there because I have in the couple of years since that panel, have thought about that a lot of like how to describe that in a simple way. How these are kind of talking about two different things. What I've come back to is this idea that your feelings are not facts about the world. However, your feelings are real and true.

I think that's the difference. It's like if someone tells you they have a feeling where they do have a feeling that is true, that's 100% real. You are actually having that feeling and no one can tell you that you're not or that that's not valid. However, that feeling does not mean anything about reality. It just is a feeling, which is real but it's not necessarily describing reality.

Dedeker: Yes, it might not.

Emily: Or might be describing your reality, but not the realities, if we're getting into--

Dedeker: Yes, doesn’t describe them all too.

Emily: First of all, let's talk about what actually is a fact and what is a feeling. I came across this interesting article called Feelings Are Not Facts: A Dangerous Confusion, from Huffington Post.

Jase: I sounds like romance novel.

Dedeker: I was going to say, a dangerous confusion it sounds like a Bond film to me.

Emily: Yes. It's what I thought.

Jase: The same thing really.

Emily: But there was a really fun a way of describing what a fact is and what a feeling is this article, so I'm just going to read it. Okay. A fact is a piece of data, data, data, subject to objective, independent and sometimes scientific verification. A feeling doesn't have to meet any of these tests. We're all entitled to our feelings, but facts exist outside of us as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it in years ago, everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.

Dedeker: Okay.

Jase: #Truth.

Dedeker: That actually was something that came up back in my days of tutoring logic and critical thinking.

Emily: Look at this lady. Wow.

Dedeker: I know. Well, it’s a very simple distinction that I think to certain people seems very obvious and to others maybe not so obvious. When we're talking about breaking down an argument of just being able to distinguish those two things, that a fact is something like coffee is grown in South America, period. Something like South American coffee is the best coffee, is not necessarily a fact, it's an opinion.

Emily: That’s an opinion.

Dedeker: It could be a feeling, it could be whatever. I don’t know, I guess there's just something very, very fundamental and rudimentary about that. It's still very important when you're thinking about listening to someone's speaking to you and talking with any kind of authority about something, about whether or not they're presenting facts or feelings, or a mixture of both.

Emily: Yes, absolutely. I did try to find the origin of this, feelings are not facts, because I feel like it's been-- Yes, I know that it's been coming up a lot recently. I feel like I see it all over the place on people talking about emotions just in general, or if they're talking about relationships. I guess I traced it back to a Psychology Today article from 2013 called Feelings Are Not Facts. That was the earliest in terms of article forum that I found, but that goes along with when we started the podcast. I feel like almost immediately, Dedeker, you started saying this, like the "feelings are not facts" thing.

Dedeker: Just started spattering off. Maybe I read that article, I don't know. I don't know where I got it from.

Emily: Maybe.

Jase: I have heard a theory before that's maybe a little bit out there. That humankind as a whole will often have like in multiple parts of the world, the same discovery, or the same realization will be made. That it's like, it was just time for this realization. I don't know.

Dedeker: Interesting.

Emily: Interesting.

Jase: It’s a little woo woo, I know but--

Dedeker: If I'm looking at Google Trends, which tracks your search history over time, it suggested it's much older than 2013 actually, that it showed up, at least as far as search terms goes, as far as September, 2005, actually.

Emily: Wow.

Jase: Interesting.

Emily: That's cool. Very cool.

Jase: Who knows?

Emily: All right. Why are emotions important and influential? Because we're not trying to suggest that they aren't. In fact, they actually really truly are, even more than probably we would think.

Dedeker: Yes. I think that a lot of us perceive that we have our emotional side and our logical side, and for some people their logical side is much stronger, and for some people their emotional side is much stronger. I do think that's true. However, I do think that our supposedly logical brains are actually much more influenced by emotion than we think that they are.

I think first of all, we suffer from carrying around this bias that we're much more objective than we actually are as human beings. We all carry on the bias that we are more objective than the people around us as well, which is just not true. There's a Harvard professor who estimated that perhaps even up to 95% of our purchasing decisions are based on emotions.

Even from everyday purchasing decisions to things like deciding things like political legislation or picking a potential candidate for a job or things like that. It's interesting about the purchasing decisions. One in this book that I'm reading right now on neuroscience and Buddhist philosophy, they do find that you go to the store and, let's say you're trying to buy a new laptop, like Jase has been doing right now. I'll use you as an example, Jase.

Jase: Yes. Okay.

Emily: Of course, because every freaking year you've got to buy a new laptop.

Dedeker: Basically, every three months, Jase buys a new laptop.

Jase: That’s not true.

Emily: Okay. Definitely at least a year.

Jase: If I could though, why would I?

Dedeker: Okay. Jase, you walk into a store and you're weighing up all--

Emily: Virtual Amazon?

Dedeker: Yes. You're weighing up all your laptop options. You're weighing up, "Okay, I have this much money that I want to spend. This is going to be my budget. These are the things that I'm looking for.

Jase: Literally I am weighing them up too, because traveling a lot weight is a bad thing.

Dedeker: Yes. It seems like a pretty objective process, right? That you're weighing up like, "Okay, does this check the boxes of what I need in a laptop? Does this have the right specs? Does it have the right weight? Does it have the right price point?" Then comparing and deciding, and then finally you pick the laptop that you want to go with. From the outside it can seem like this is a relatively objective fairly rational, fairly logical process, but they find that actually there's a lot of emotion that goes into that. They've literally studied this with people where they brought people into a lab, gave them real-world money, presented them with the options of things to buy and were tracking what parts of their brains lit up as they were making decisions about what to purchase and what not. The thing is the thing that we don't think of it's almost like this micro level of emotions that actually influence our logical decision-making. Because when we way up the options objectively, we feel good about doing that.

We're measuring up the relative feeling of pleasure that we get from looking at a particular option against the relative feeling of pain when we think about paying for that thing. We think about how painful or less painful it may be to fork over either $1,000 or $2,000. There's feelings attached to that and that is actually influencing our supposedly very logical rational decision-making process.

It seems ridiculous to be like, "What? 95% of my purchasing decisions are emotional," but they really truly are. Then if you feel like you've gotten a good deal, you get this feeling of pleasure in the fact that you've gotten a good deal. Now, you're going to get to have this thing that you're looking forward to. Feelings are very much interwoven into that process.

Jase: Just to back that up even a little bit more here. A Neuroscience Professor, Antonio Damasio did a study of people who had damage to a particular part of their brain that was responsible for experiencing emotion. As far as I understand it, it's a part of the brain that is what causes the body to actually have emotional responses. It's about the physical feelings associated with having an emotion. These people had damage to that part of their brain where they wouldn't experience that and so they were essentially less emotional. Felt less emotion on a moment to moment basis. We all think like, "They'll be like the Vulcans, and they'll be the best decision-maker."

Dedeker: The most logical?

Jase: The most logical. The best decision-makers. The reality is that they were paralyzed by decisions about almost anything that if it were truly just a logic problem where there's a clearly objectively right answer, they were fine, but most of our decisions aren't that. Like decisions of what to eat for lunch, is just completely paralyzing, or what clothes to wear, because we're making all of those decisions emotionally on this very small moment to moment level physically.

Emily: Am I having a day where I want to wear red? Am I having a day where I want to wear black?

Jase: Right.

Dedeker: Well, okay, but I think you can think that you're being logical about it, because I get up in my day and I'm thinking like, "Okay, what am I going to do today? What's the weather going to be like? Is the weather likely to change? Am I going to go somewhere else where maybe I should wear different clothes?" I think that I'm deciding it logically, but in the midst of all of that is also a lot of feeling that is influencing me in a particular way or another.

Jase: Yes.

Dedeker: On top of that, another reason why our feelings are extremely important and influential is that there are several studies showing that we not only feel our own feelings, but we tend to mimic the feelings and emotions of people around us. It's very obvious I think to see on either things like mob mentality or pack mentalities, which is not always a negative thing.

It's this idea like you're on a football game and everyone's wild up, but then it's just much more exciting when you're there with everyone super excited. Or watching the release of Star Wars in a crowded movie theatre full of Star Wars fans, versus when you're watching it by yourself at home that probably when you're in there in the theatre with a bunch of other excited people around you, you're probably more likely to feel excited as well.

Emily: When you all see me cry on this podcast, you start crying.


Dedeker: Yes, or seeing someone especially someone close to you, someone that you love start crying that that can make you suddenly start tearing up as well, you start feeling these emotions. Not only are we feeling our own feelings, but we're very subconsciously tuned into the feelings of people around us.

Emily: With all of that information, because obviously, feelings are very important, emotions are very important and really dictate a lot of things that we do in our daily lives. When we say something like, "Feelings are not facts," what does that actually mean to each of us? Dedeker says it all the time, I think that I use it a lot on my daily life too and I'm sure you do as well, Jase, in various ways.

I guess I can start. I'm trying to think of what it means to me because I do agree, people out there obviously, anyone can have their emotion and have an emotional experience, and it matters, and it is real. Often, we forget because of our own cognitive biases about what actually was intended, what the reality of the other person situation is.

Just to give an example, often at work, I will have a terse interaction sometimes with people who I'm waiting tables and giving their food and stuff. Often, I'll be like, "Wow, that person is an asshole." They must just be a mean person or something. The reality of the situation is maybe they just gotten a really big fight with their spouse, maybe they woke up and haven't had their coffee yet. Anything could be happening to that person.

My interpretation and the feeling that I get from that interaction, the feeling is real, but the reality of the situation and the idea that I have about that person may not actually be the case, based on just what my own emotional interpretation of that interaction is. I think that something for me is I always be aware of when especially I get into heated discussions with my significant other or with any of my friends, that I am bringing to the table my own personal cognitive biases and that they also are. That melding of a mind has to happen in order to figure out what the reality of the situation is.

Jase: Yes, definitely. We've talked about this on past episodes, but definitely trying to remind myself of just that I don't know what's going on for anyone else, unless they tell me. Usually, people aren't telling you their day-to-day feelings and thoughts is that. I think also a different perspective on the "Feelings are not facts" thing, is actually don't know where this quote came from originally. Something that a lot of people actually take issue with this quote, but I have found it to be very helpful for me.

It essentially blows down to, everything that happens in the world is neutral, that everything that happens to you is neutral. It's not good or bad, it's just your thinking and your feeling that makes it good or bad. People get upset about that and they're like, "What? My child is sick. You can't tell me that's not bad." It's I guess getting a little bit Buddhist and philosophical about it, but just being like, "These are just things that happen."

That's not saying you shouldn't feel upset about it or that you can't, but just reminding myself at least that, "I'm the one having these feelings about these things. These things aren't happening to me. The universe doesn't center around me, and that everything is good or bad objectively based on how it affects me." Anyway, that's just something I've thought about from my own life.

Dedeker: I feel mine is a different flavor.

Jase: Okay. So many flavors.

Emily: Okay, good.

Dedeker: Because when I tend to trot out "feelings are not facts", I tend to trot it out on myself more often, honestly, because I think I found that I will have a feeling about myself, and it might be, "I feel down about myself," or, "I feel embarrassed," or, "I feel ashamed," or something like that. Having to remind myself, "Just because I'm feeling this way it doesn't mean that's a fact about me."

It doesn't mean that I am a terrible person, or that I should be ashamed, or things like that. However, I also try to use it even on the positive side as well that I can also have moments of being like, "Wow, I'm great and I'm doing great and I'm really smart and really cool and really good at life." Also, having to remind myself like, "Okay, it's good to feel that feeling," like let yourself feel that and enjoy that, but that's also not necessarily a fact about you.

That it's always going to be good or that you're always going to make the smartest or the best choice in any situation. I guess for me, it's about not getting too attached to particular feelings either negative or positive and especially when it has to do with stories about myself. I guess we want to explore the reverse side of this of like if we are seeing feelings as facts or experiencing them as facts, how can that influence us? What happens to us in our interactions with others?

Just an example could be I think like Em's example of dealing with that customer who's really terse with you, that then you can pick up that ball and run with it of like, "Wow, this person has ruined me and had a problem with me." I think certainly be what the story turns into. You can experience this anxiety or this upset over a prolonged period of time just based off of this very tiny and brief interaction with someone. That, again, you can really--

Emily: Yes, it can affect your entire day.

Dedeker: Yes, that you can really run with a story of like, "Gosh, maybe they had a problem with me." Or, "Did I do something wrong?" Or, "Gosh, why would they choose to pick on me? What a bully," when again, you have no idea what the reality is. That feeling that came in at that moment of feeling upset or feeling shocked, or whatever it was, then turns into this whole story and then turns into the way that we behave for the rest of the day or toward that particular person.

Jase: Another one that comes up is that emotions can lead to logical fallacies in debates or arguments, or even just when we're trying to do our own reasoning for ourselves. This is something that I personally have found is especially dangerous. That sounds so serious. Sometimes it actually is dangerous, but is particularly--

Dedeker: Would you say that it was a dangerous confusion?

Jase: I might say it was a dangerous confusion.

Jase: Coming to theaters this summer.

Emily: This romance novel or whatever.

Jase: James Bond film or whatever it is.

Dedeker: I think it's going to be like James Bond reading-

Emily: Yes, there you go.

Dedeker: -a romance novel.

Jase: Because it Is also confusing for the audience as well.

Jase: Right, everyone's confused.

Emily: Yes. This is dangerous. This is a confusion.

Jase: It's particularly dangerous when we think of ourselves as someone who is logical, or when we think we're being very logical. It's basically like logic, and logicking through something is a really useful tool for examining our beliefs or examining our decisions. It's not an infallible way of making those decisions in the first place, necessarily, or deciding on our beliefs or arguing them or arguing against someone else's decisions or beliefs.

It's a useful tool for examining them, but it's not infallible and the reason is that we have emotions. We have a lot of assumptions we make about the world and things that we think of as universal truths about the world that we're not even aware of. We have to have those to even function as a human being. It's not to say the goal is to get rid of all of those necessarily. I think that people who think of themselves as very logical, I will often look at them-- This tends to come up with straight men, the most, as who I noticed doing this.

Dedeker: The logic bros.

Jase: The logic bros. They'll talk to me and complain to me about something they're frustrated about with their partner or about people in the world. They think they're being very logical in explaining why they feel the way they do, and why they do the things they do, and why they reacted this way to this person, and all that.

I'm sitting there listening to them going, "Okay. If you're actually being logical and really looked at what's happening here, you've made an incredibly illogical choice to act the way you've acted, which is going to hurt someone else, make them like you less, deteriorate your relationship with them, give you less credibility, cut off your ability to learn from anyone else." Just like all of these things that your decision has done, that you think you're so logical, and you're so proud of. Really, it's just this way of patting yourself on the back and thinking you're better than everyone else when it's actually very illogical.

Dedeker: Yes, because I do think that people can really attach to logic and logical thinking when really what it is, is of identifying with like, "I think that my way of thinking is the correct way. I'm such a logical person because I'm correct most of the time." Again, not examining that it's like--

Emily: That's a logical fallacy in and of itself saying like, "Well, I'm logical and most of my thinking is correct. This thinking that I'm talking to with you about must be correct."

Dedeker: Yes, exactly. It's like not even being able to see the water that you swim in is influencing your definition of what logic is. I had a partner who was like a textbook example of this that all the time he brought up logic in arguments. It would always be situations like, "Well, why would you make plans to go see this partner at this time, at the time that would upset me most that's just not logical."

Emily: What?

Dedeker: Yes. It's okay, we're not together anymore.

Emily: When is an upsetting time in which to see someone?

Jase: 2.00 PM is an objectively upsetting time.

Dedeker: Yes, it was that thing. It was this idea of, "I have the sense of objective reality and so if you're doing something that upsets me or goes against my expectations, clearly that's not logical."

Jase: It must be illogical.

Dedeker: That's not logical that you would do that. Anyway.

Emily: I did.

Dedeker: There are many other problems with that that we don't have to get into that. Let's talk more about logic.

Jase: I think then the secondary thing that happens then when you ignore your own emotions and they're a factor in your decision making and in your thoughts and in the assumptions you make about how the world works, and how people work. That you'll end up getting into this cycle where then you're using what you think is logic to just back up why you feel a certain way.

Never have to question that, never have to change it, never have to actually accept what someone else's saying. You only listen to it enough to pick out the parts you need to argue against it or to backup your own argument. It really gets into this cycle. I hope there's some people out there hearing this going, "Yikes. This might be me, because this has 100% been me in the past."

Dedeker: Yes, me too.

Emily: Yes, all of us.

Jase: Yes. Just a lot of the people I know who think of themselves as so logical, I would love if they would examine that a little bit more. Some of the particular logical fallacies that we pointed out, there's a whole list of logical fallacies. Maybe we should do a whole episode about logic, at some point, just for fun.

Emily: Sure.

Jase: Some key ones that can come up here, because of your emotions. The first one is called cherry picking. That's what I was just describing. It's where you only pick out things that support your argument, often based on feelings. Based on, "Well, I feel that thing is true so I'm going to pick that out." Or, "You said this thing that upset me. I'm just going to grab that one and ignore all the other things that you said." Another one is appealing to majority. "If this is just because everyone else does it, it must be right." Or, "There must be something true to this because of the fact that everyone's done it this way." I think also tradition falls into that too.

Dedeker: It's this idea of it feels comfortable, or it feels normal because everyone else does this as well, and so therefore, it is okay.

Jase: Yes. Like, "Well, most people do it this way. I'm fine to do it this way too rather than actually just questioning it." Then sometimes going along with that or supporting it, is two different ones. One's called appealing to ignorance and the other is misplacing the burden of proof. That's basically using a lack of information to either support your argument or to tear down someone else's argument. This one comes up a lot with things about polyamory, where it's just there's not a lot of research on it.

There's not nearly as much data that even is gathered with an open mind toward that. A lot of the research that is done is already based on assumptions about how relationships should work or how they do work, or what an ideal relationship looks like. A lack of information can be used as a way to say like, "Well, obviously, this thing's not good because there's no research on it." Or, "There's no proof of this thing so, therefore, it's not real." The last one we wanted to mention here is called ad hominem, which is Latin.

Dedeker: Yes.

Jase: Okay.

Dedeker: What else would it be?

Emily: Dedeker.

Jase: Well, I'm always confused about what's Latin and what's Greek. You know what I mean because they both make up the roots of a lot of our words.

Dedeker: Yes, but this is definitely Latin.

Jase: This one is Latin, for sure.

Dedeker: Obviously.

Jase: That's basically invalidating something that someone says because of an emotional assessment you've made of their character. Saying that this person says, "Well, I think that people should be respected and allowed to have whatever gender that they identify as," and another person invalidates that, rather than actually addressing it itself, invalidates it by going like, "Well, that's typical you. Always wanting to find something to complain about or something that we have to change to make you comfortable." It's that type of argument that may be of all of these is the most obviously--

Dedeker: Emotionally-based?

Jase: That's purely your emotion. That's purely your emotional characterization of someone.

Emily: In terms of other things that can happen. If you view feelings as facts, you can often go to more toxic or harmful behaviors based on your assumptions of what actually is happening in that situation. Things like withdrawal, things like denial, even things like excessive anger and name calling. That can happen, again, when you don't stop to take a breath, take a minute to assess the situation. It can be like a reactionary thing that occurs as opposed to sitting and breathing and taking a moment or halting even before you act.

Dedeker: Also treating feelings as facts, it can lead to things like personal bias. I personally believe that emotion plays a lot into sexism, racism, things like that. That the feelings the we learned very early on to attach to this particular person then influences the way that we treat this person and influences the facts that we have in our head about this person or type of person. It can really put fuel in the fire of our bad habits. It can also contribute to there being resentment in relationship.

The specific example that I'm thinking of here is that, sometimes if you treat your feelings as facts, it can be that sense of well, let's say when my partner doesn't pick up after himself, I feel really neglected and I feel disrespected and I feel abandoned. If that happens repeatedly overtime, it can turn into a fact for you of my partner is neglecting me and abandoning me and disrespecting me.

When the whole time, your partner doesn't even think about these things, or never realized there was a problem, or never saw that you were doing all this labor to pick up after them, and doesn't have an intention of doing any of those things. It's definitely something where it's like feeling that's unexamined or unchecked can influence these stories, can influence the stories that we tell about other people and about ourselves. It can really put, I guess, skewed filters on the way that we interact and the way that we see the world.

Emily: Yes, absolutely. Touching on a little bit what you had said about bad habits, because I feel like cyclical patterns occur often in relationships. You may keep going back to the same argument over and over in a relationship, and that can be because these things are being left unexamined. You have your own cognitive bias and your own idea of what is happening in this moment.

You continue to run head first into the situation with that same thinking, and instead of one of the two of you deciding to change that thinking or deciding to examine it further, you just keep doing the same thing over and over again. This has happened to me a ton in my relationships. I think it probably happens to most people, but it is something to really be aware of because if you're not going to fix that pattern then what are you doing? That can keep coming up over and over again.

Dedeker: Just another old gem I want to throw in there from this neuroscience and Buddhism book that I think also supports this idea. Even when you think you're being very rational and logical that you potentially are being quite emotional. Is the thing that our emotions, our feelings are the mechanism that helps our brain to know which thoughts to think first essentially, which sounds a little bit nuts.

Because think about the fact that your brain is processing a ton of information all the time, and it's thinking thoughts all the time. Our feeling attached to particular thoughts is what essentially bumps particular thoughts to the top of the queue, that are going to be the thoughts that are more likely to take our focus in that moment.

It's like even when you think, "Well, I'm just thinking everything through," it's like no, there is this feeling engine that is attached to every single thought, and your brain is categorizing like, "This is the feeling level five. This is the feeling level four. This is the feeling level two." That is going to influence the way that you even think through something, even if you think that you're just looking at all the facts and evaluating them in that way.

Jase: It reminds me just real quick of something I remember learning about the media and some studies done about like, does news media affect people's opinions about things?

Emily: Yes.

Jase: In this particular study, well in this particular study, they found that news doesn't actually have a huge impact on what people think about something, but it has a huge impact on what we think about, period. Of like what's even worth thinking about. Which then based on what you choose to get people to think about, you can then affect their opinions and their thoughts about things, but rather than the news is telling us what to think, it's telling us what to think about. I think that's--

Emily: Interesting.

Dedeker: That was interesting.

Jase: It's like you were talking about with that emotional like, "Well, my emotions are telling me what to think about, and I might think I have my own opinions and my own thoughts about this but even what you're thinking about is being emotionally driven. It's really interesting.

Emily: Wow. There has been some research done on why feelings are not facts. Why emotional occurrences can be construed as facts, but they actually are not. There is a neuroscientist out there, her name is, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and she's the author of How Emotions Are Made. She studied the facial expressions of people against the emotions that they were actually feeling.

Basically, she took a big group of participants and she asked them to identify the emotions of a particular person's face and what she found is that a bunch of people just consistently got the emotions incorrect. You would look at a face, you would say, "Okay, this is anger clearly," or, "This is frustration," or, "This is sadness. Often, those emotions would not be actually what that person was feeling.

They would make these assumptions based on their own personal biases, and they would then confuse things like fear with anxiety, or something along those lines. That's really interesting because I think that most of us out there would be like, "I know what an emotion is," or, "I know what is going on in a person just by looking at them," but she's essentially saying that that isn't true at all.

Jase: Or assuming that other people know what we're feeling by our face.

Emily: True, yes. Or by our body language or whatever.

Dedeker: That's perhaps the more dangerous of the confusions.

Emily: Indeed.

Dedeker: It is interesting, so this neuroscientist called, Lisa Feldman Barrett--

Emily: Gosh.

Dedeker: She says the expressions that we've been told are the correct ones are just stereotypes and people express in many different ways. I take that to mean that really, newsflash, the only way to accurately recognize an emotion in another individual is to ask them what they're feeling. Often, in the moment, your perception of what another person is feeling can actually be entirely incorrect. I ran into this all the time in really inane and mundane ways, particularly with Jase. That, Jase, whenever you look at your phone, you look so stressed out and disturbed.

Emily: Oh man, and you're like, "What? What's happening?"

Jase: Yes.

Dedeker: Maybe a little bit angry also and I'm always like, "Oh my goodness, what is going on?" You're like, "Oh, I don't know. Everything fine. Everything's great."

Jase: I'm like, "I was just trying to read this text." I'm like, "Maybe I need to wear my glasses more often, and I don't know what it is saying. Apparently, I look very stressed out.

Emily: You look through your brow, yes.

Dedeker: Well, Jase, you were talking to me about when we all went on this silent retreat together, and then you checking out our faces, our resting faces essentially, and trying to extrapolate what it was that we were feeling in a particular moment.

Jase: Yes, just that idea of, what's your neutral expression even is interesting.

Emily: Exactly. Lisa Feldman Barrett talked about resting bitch face as well, which is an unfortunate term. It's something that a lot of people will say about women and say like, "Oh, well she has a resting bitch face, she must be a bitch," or something along those lines. Lisa Feldman Barrett said like that's just a neutral expression, it means nothing. That is something that we've studied--

Dedeker: You're projecting pitch on to it.

Emily: Exactly, you can infer anything from somebody's face like mostly, usually that is just a neutral expression.

Jase: Yes, I remember learning about this a little in college when I was in a music education class. I was doing some student teaching at a high school. In the class, basically we're talking about that if like, what is your neutral resting expression and to know what that signals to people, which was interesting as kind of an aside. They encouraged us to try to evaluate each other. What do we get from your neutral face so that you're at least aware what students might think you're thinking about them while you're actually not thinking anything at all about them.

Dedeker: It's interesting.

Jase: It is interesting. Anyway, that's just on the side. I did want to point out with this thing that we don't really know what people are thinking. We watch shows like Lie To Me, if anyone watches that. Sherlock is a good example of this, or any of the other shows like that. House did stuff like this. Wherever you have this person who's super observant and the fiction is that they're able to always know what people are thinking and read people perfectly.

The truth of it is, if you read the book, Telling Lies, by Paul Ekman, who is one of the people who first discovered micro expressions and things like that. He talks about basically that you can learn to identify emotions and micro expressions and things that are leaking through, but what you can't ever learn how to tell is what they mean. You can't ever know why a person just felt that disgust, or that happiness, or that whatever, you can make guesses but it's really just guesses.

Emily: He tries to figure that out on the show, but yes.

Jase: That's the fiction. Is that in the show it's like you just know what those mean. That's the problem I think is that we then identify with those characters and we assume we can do the same thing. That we assume, "Oh, if I identified an expression, I must also know what it means, and why they're feeling it."

Emily: Yes, and that's it.

Jase: That's it, not true. All right. To bring you back to the next point though, is that at a young age, we're taught emotional concepts by our parents. Babies can feel things like distress or happiness or maybe fear, but more complex emotional concepts, such as, like hearing terrible news and being upset about that is something we have to learn. Like, if you think if you tell a baby who's maybe could understand the words you're saying, but about some--

Emily: Even a small child often before they've had this concept taught to them.

Jase: Yes, you tell them about some tragedy or something and it's just like, "Okay." Maybe they'll see that you're emotional about it, but we have to learn how to have that reaction.

Dedeker: That's really interesting because I feel like that helps explain to me this weird arc over the course of my life, where I feel like when I was much younger, I could watch much more disturbing things, or read about much more disturbing things without getting as upset as I do now.

Emily: When were you doing that? When you were young?

Jase: Well, okay, here's an example is, I don't remember how old I was when I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. I was not quite a teenager. I think I was maybe 12 or something. I was my sister who would have been 20 or 21. I remember going to the Holocaust Museum with her and having an understanding of this is really tragic, this is really sad, this is really horrible but seeing my sister who was just in tears the whole time. Just like gut-wrenching tears.

I remember as a child being, yes, I understand that is sad, but feeling this weird disconnect for my sister who was really emotionally moved by it. Now, when I think back about the Holocaust Museum and think about some of the stuff I saw there, it makes me want to cry now. I feel like that was part of that of not 100% fully learning this emotional response to something of this kind of gravity, perhaps. I don't know, I'm sure there's other factors that influence that as well. That is interesting.

Emily: Well, yes, in this specific article too they were talking about how different people don't have the language for specific things that we do here in America in the English language. Like the term sad might mean something completely different, or some other language might not even have that word. The emotion, the complexity of that emotion might be different than it is for us in the English language. Those of us who know English or who have a similar word to an emotion like sad, someone else may have something completely different and a completely different interpretation of what that is.

Jase: Yes. I hadn't even considered that so clearly, but that makes a lot of sense with learning Japanese, and there's emotions like "Hazukashi".

Dedeker: Oh like "Natsukashii" .

Jase: Or "Natsukashii" both. "Hazukashi" we translate usually is like embarrassment. It's like being embarrassed but the nuance of it's a little different. There was an old woman trying to pick up her bike to put it on a bike rack and she was having trouble getting it over this chain and picking it up. I went over and helped her lift it up, and her response was like, "Oh, hazukashi." Like, "I'm so embarrassed." I'm like, I don't think that's what that means. That like the nuance of it's a little different.

Emily: What is the nuance?

Dedeker: Well, it's not just embarrassed but it's also vulnerable, I found. It's come up for me in situations of like, I was having a really intimate and vulnerable conversation with someone that I was dating and who was Japanese. He asked me if I was feeling hazukashi. It was a weird thing where I was like, this isn't something I'm embarrassed about, but it is a very vulnerable thing. That's interesting.

Jase: Just to think that then people who speak Japanese might just have a whole different understanding of what one could feel in this moment.

Dedeker: For me, it's "Natsukashii" which is usually translated as nostalgia, but I feel like it's not quite that. It's not just nostalgia. It's this positive sense of longing or missing an object or a thing from your past, but it's like a positive appreciation of it. I think it's not quite so tensely like the sadness. Maybe I shouldn't have said longing, because I think there's less of the sadness and longing but it's more of that sense of like--

Jase: Like, "Oh, that thing."

Dedeker: It's like all the positive nostalgia like, "Oh, wow, this feels so good to re-experience this or to taste this again," or whatever. I mean it's interesting.

Emily: Well, it's fascinating, because we're even trying to parse out what that emotion would mean, but it's even difficult for us to do that, because again, we just don't have a word for it in our language. That's a whole another frickin layer to think about when having interactions with people who maybe aren't native to your language.

Dedeker: There's this little concept known as emotional intelligence. By little, I mean, not that little, because I think at this point, a lot of people have heard of the concept of emotional intelligence and it originally came from these researchers, Peter Salovey, who is currently the president of Yale University, and John Mayer.

Jase: I've been waiting on the world to change.

Emily: Not the singer.

Dedeker: Not him. A different John Mayer. It was popularized by author Daniel Goldman, in his book that was simply titled emotional intelligence. He's since published 200 other books. Not 200 many other books about emotional intelligence.

Jase: He describes it as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions. Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others. In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people positively and negatively. Learning how to manage those emotions, both our own and others, especially when we're under pressure. That's his little description of it.

Emily: Spiel on it, yes. He also talked about five key elements in emotional intelligence. These elements can really be used in your daily life. They can be used in dealing with your co-workers, or rowdy clientele at your job. In my case--

Jase: Rowdy clientele?

Emily: Indeed. Also in dealing with a tense moment with your significant other. The first element is going to be self-awareness. This really just includes being able to personally identify your strengths, your weaknesses, having humility, also understanding when you personally are wrong in a situation. Understanding how you view yourself, how you view the world around you and having awareness for how you act, and how you choose to act based on your personal views. Ways to promote this, ways to encourage self-awareness can include things like meditating.

We talked about that a lot on the show. Even things like yoga. I mean, that's more of a physical activity, but I think that it can bring self-awareness into you. It's also been proven to help you just feel better. If you're having a shitty day, go for a frickin run. Those endorphins will definitely help. Also, you can do things like journaling, when we were on our meditation retreat. I don't think I've journaled more than during that time, but it definitely helped in terms of self-awareness, for sure.

Jase: Yes, and just to clarify here with meditation, this doesn't mean just meditate to relax, which I think is what a lot of people associate with it. This is more the type of meditation where what you're doing is you're trying to become more aware of the things you are thinking or the things you are feeling and just being curious about those. That is very literally just trying to be more self-aware. Being more mindful of just like, what am I actually thinking? What am I actually feeling instead of just taking those for granted. Just like, "Oh, those happen. I'm not aware of it."

Emily: Curiosity was something that actually came up too with all of these. That a sense of curiosity was also another element of being emotionally intelligent, which I think is really cool.

Dedeker: The next key element of emotional intelligence is self-regulation. That's the ability to take a breath, take a pause, the ability to assess a situation before acting on it. People who don't self-regulate or have a hard time self-regulating can sometimes end up engaging in name calling, or lashing out, or doing really rash, quick emotional decision making, or compromising your values in a moment.

That's why it is important to really build that muscle of being able to take a few breaths. When a surge of emotion comes up so that it's not this instant. Like I feel this surge of emotion and then the first thing that comes out of my mouth immediately is an attack or calling you a name or something like that. Being able to take a few breaths before acting, holding yourself accountable for both your feelings and your actions.

Being able to halt in a particularly challenging or particularly emotional situation, or finding ways to express your emotions in a healthy way. Because self-regulation does not mean just self-repression. I believe it doesn't mean you feel it and then you just tamp it all down. It means being able to be honest and express those emotions but in a way that isn't just letting the full force of those emotions just land on the other person in a destructive way.

Jase: I found that one particularly comes up for me when talking to customer support, or trying to like get through some call line when I have an issue with something. What I've tried to really do is to still tell them how I'm feeling, but without dumping it on them. To just, "I'll take a breath," and be like, "Okay. I understand that this is just your role right now, but I want you to know that I'm furious right now about what's happening," or whatever it is, right. "I want you to know that and be aware of it and I'm going to try not to take that out on you." I've even been just like super upfront with them about that. I have found it's helpful. I'm sure they appreciate it because most people probably just yell at them.

Emily: That's true. That's good.

Jase: All right. The next one we have here is motivation. This is basically being motivated to be better. This is having a high standard for the quality of your life, for the work that you do, for your relationships, being motivated to become a better person. To always be improving yourself, to re-examine why you care for a particular person if you're having challenges with them, to practice gratitude in your life for your relationships.

I would say this could also go back to like doing things like meditation or journaling like being interested, being motivated to get better. Basically, constantly striving to be the best that you can be both for yourself and for the other people in your life. Finding new skills they can help you in your communication.

Emily: The next one is going to be empathy. This is a huge one. One that we talk about a lot on this podcast. One that I tried to implement into my daily life all the time, just because it's difficult to sometimes see what another person is going through, or even see what they're experiencing, because you may have a person in front of you having a really strong emotional reaction. Then that causes you to have a really strong emotional reaction, and it just this ping-pong back and forth between the two of you.

If one or both of you can have empathy and have the ability to put yourself in another situation, or in their frame of reference, then that will enable you to be able to act towards that person with understanding. This is more esoteric but if you can just practice looking at the bigger picture try to see what the other person's point of view is try to understand the reaction based on that standpoint. Then also respond to the person's feeling from that understanding.

Just even say something like, "I understand what you're going through. I get you in this moment. I can see how frustrating it is for you." Even just acknowledging that I think is really powerful in a situation where you're having maybe a standoff with your partner or something, to just take a breath and be like, "Hey, I see that you're really hurting right now. It may be challenging for me to understand that from my point of view, but I get it. I'm here for you."

Dedeker: Well, like something we've talked about on previous episodes of being able to go to a place of saying like, "From my point of view I feel differently, but I totally understand that if you perceived the situation this way, I would also feel hurt or I would also feel betrayed." Just demonstrating this idea of being able to understand your partner's feelings, even if their feelings are maybe not a fact about what actually happened in this situation.

Emily: Sure. Totally.

Jase: This one just reminded me of a real quick quote here. This is from Captain G.M. Gilbert.

Dedeker: Captain, hey.

Emily: Joubert.

Jase: He was the Army psychologist assigned to watch the defendants at the Nuremberg trials after World War Two. His quote is, "In my work on this, I was searching for the nature of evil and I think now I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It's the one characteristic that connects all the defendants. A genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil I think is the absence of empathy."

Dedeker: Interesting.

Jase: I've always thought that quote was really powerful. Anyway, I just want to throw that in there since we're talking about empathy.

Emily: Thank you for that.

Dedeker: Okay. Then the last one of these five key elements. The last one is social skills and by social skills we don't mean you're great at starting conversations, or you're the life of the party, or you're super extroverted, or you're great at picking up people to go on dates. That's not quite what we mean by social skills. It's more just being able to communicate. Being able to communicate with the people around you about your feelings. Being able to communicate your perceptions accurately to the people around you.

People who have these good social skills they're adaptable, they're not afraid of change. They can resolve conflicts in a diplomatic fashion, and they can also set an example for others with their own behavior. Ways to do that is, you can rely on communication hacks, especially if you're a socially awkward person, or if you grew up in a situation where you didn't have the best models for how to communicate with other people around you. You can use communication hacks, things like the triforce or NVC or radar.

You can learn about conflict resolution, you can learn how to recognize and praise your partner, or your friend, or your co-worker when they also communicate effectively. I think that's a big part of it too is also learning to indicate to others when they've done a good job of communicating with you. Not in a patronizing way but in a sense of like, "When you communicated this way I think I really understood what was going on. This is an effective way to communicate."

Emily: Even just if they're clearly working on those skills. If they're working to get better and you see that, it's like, "Hey I like I know that this has been difficult for us before, but I really see the progress that both of us have made in this way."

Dedeker: Definitely.

Emily: We hope that all of these things came in handy for you today. I'm really interested to know what people think of this episode. If they themselves have found that they will see feelings as facts, and how that is interpreted in their relationships, and if that's maybe something that they want to think about from time to time. Then also if they use any of these things within emotional intelligence in their relationships and in their daily life.