Finding Balance: Are My Feelings Giving A Correct Assessment of Life?

Process of perception conceptually

I was recently talking to someone who’s parent had died and the father remarried within a year. As we spoke, I heard the painful story describing the personal experience of a person who felt that remarriage changed the surviving parent and subsequently believed that the father no longer loved them. It reminds me that how a person feels about what happens may essentially be more important than what actually happens.  For example, the feeling of rejection coupled with loneliness  and isolation has a devastating effect upon the life of people who have lost the sense of belongingness and sense of love  in a family system. Equally important is a parent who has lost their meaning and purpose in life and  has found someone to have relationship, companionship,and some hope for a better life.  However while fulfilling a personal need, the message felt by family members is that they are not loved, you have changed, and we are being unfairly treated.  A good question to ask here is what is the real issue?  The answer is complicated, but simply put is a matter of where a person is standing and how we feel about where we are standing.  I honestly believe that all behavior is driven by need felt in and through life experience.

The challenge within finding balance in changing relationships connects to the fact of how we feel and not necessarily in what is really happening.  A truth is that life has changed and people’s behaviors appear different, but what needs to be asked is: Why do people see things as they do and behave as they do?

One obvious answer is that every person has their own perspective of events from where they are standing in a situation.  Another answer is theoretical, a Rogerian principle which echoes a perspective that, it is not the activating event– it is how we feel an about event that is important.  A relative truth is that, in conflict, feelings count about 90% and fact about 10%.  While feelings are important in a lived experience the unanswered question is, “are my feelings a true reflection of reality?”  This is difficult because when something is rooted in perceptions and feelings, it is what we believe to be true from our perspective that we respond to which may not be always accurate.  If we could tape the inner conversation of an individual in a situation and play it back, what would it say?   What might be heard is a story of how the world is understood/misunderstood and is fueling the feeling not being loved, not as important, or the feeling of replacement by someone new.

Feeling is what drives the behavior which in turn reinforces what is believed to be true; thus becoming, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  What is not understood is that the fear of loss and abandonment actually motivates self-protecting behavior which, in turn, causes our worst fear to become a reality.  When actions are in accordance with what is really believed– felt to be true; then what is really believed become the reality that we see, experience, and live out.

Some misunderstood facts may be missing that contribute to feeling wrongly and behaving badly. When someone dies or divorce occurs, one fact is that family dynamics change and relationships are redefined as a natural developmental process.  A normal response is that change is resisted as responses demonstrate the component of denial that says, “I know it happened but nothing has really changed–life will go on as it always has .”  The idealistic response given is an effort to hang on to the past in an attempt to avoid the crisis that has come.  Many changes present an unnatural development which individuals are not ready for and the harder that we resist it, the harder life is to live  in a healthy way.  At the core of idealism is a statement about how self-concept, self-esteem, and our social identity are defined.  Erickson described the life-stage developments and how at each stage of life, there is a crisis of identity— the life-stage faced  is the unnatural event and if we have not brought a scaffold with us–adaptability, experience, maturity, understanding, which provide skills to navigate into what is ahead, we will revisit the struggle over and over until the skills are developed.

Most everyone has heard of Helen Keubler Ross’s stages of grief that are so often talked about, but I do not know if we understand that denial in the grief process is very similar to  act of resistance that is experienced in change.  In one event, an unexpected development, i.e., death of a child, husband/wife, parent, or family member has married someone else an unnatural event has force circumstances to be faced that are not planned out ahead of time.  A common thread is found in all adjustment to life tragedies; an inability to accept change.  An important truth is that an inability to respond is motivated by unresolved grief  coupled with feelings which frames perception that we have of ourselves, as well as , what is happening.   An important question in moments like this is: Am I seeing this correctly, or is my response based upon a perception of life events that are distorted by the unresolved process of grief where denial is being acted out.  A  story that says, “I am afraid that I have been abandoned again so I cannot accept what has changed, so as long as I stay there, I won’t have to face the fear of not knowing who I really am.”  Obviously, the hardest person to be honest with is yourself and until you can be, the experience of life experience will supply what is believed to be true. Think about this: There is only one person that can change how you feel.  Unfortunately, people who are stuck in the feeling stage of perception that will not accept change, no amount of rational information, discussion, or evidence will phase them.  Change is a personal decision and until individuals are willing to look in the mirror of reality and gain a rational perspective of life events the struggle will go on having and feelings will shape perspective into  a picture of life that may feel real, but is it?


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