What to Do When Our Feelings Are Lying to Us

My youngest son is a lot like me—he pretty much organizes his life around avoiding physical pain and discomfort. So, when he got pink eye, and the doctor ordered us to put antibiotic drops in his eye, I wondered if we could just lock him in his room for a few days until the pink eye resolved on its own.

Don’t judge me. I only wondered for a minute. Or two.

I took charge of the drops, because I can empathize a little better with his theatrics.

As he lay on the couch, writhing, eyes clamped shut and screaming, I realized his feelings were preventing him from receiving a healing balm. The drops were medicine—they would be soothing and they would cure him. But my son’s feelings were lying to him, telling him the discomfort would be immense.

And there was nothing I could do to change his feelings.

When Feelings Are Deceptive

Our feelings are important—we need to listen to them, to become intimately familiar with them, to learn their depths. But that doesn’t mean they’re always honest with us. Sometimes, our feelings lie.

Anxiety is a sincere and good feeling when you hear footsteps behind you in a dark parking garage. It’s a horrible, life-ruining lie when you are walking down the street and scared to death of what everyone thinks of the size of your waist.

My feelings lie to me every Tuesday night. When I push the “schedule” button on a blog post, setting it to publish at 3:30am, my heart jumps into my throat. I get terrified of what people will think. So, every Tuesday night, my feelings tell me it’s not worth it. They tell me to go to bed and forget this whole writing thing.

I think many of us have gotten used to swallowing the lies our feelings whisper to us, and I’m afraid it’s shutting down our lives—we are missing out on the healing elixir of life and love and grace and creativity and wonder.

Listening to Something Else

My son rocked to and fro on the couch, and I could relate to it. So I asked him to listen to my whisper and when he had stilled, I asked, “Can you find the place inside of your heart where you can do anything?”

One eye peaked open. “Huh?” he asked.

So I said it again, “Can you close your eyes and find the still, quiet place inside of you where you know you can do anything?”

My son closed his eyes. I watched his face get placid and his chest begin to slowly rise and fall. Then his eyes opened, and he looked at me, and he said, “I’m ready, Daddy.”

And I dropped the healing medicine into his eye.

When Feelings Lose Their Power

We have a still, quiet place inside of us. I could confidently encourage my son to find his still, quiet center, because as a therapist, I’ve learned we all have it. And when we call upon it, our fears lose their power to limit us, our anger loses its power to devastate, and our sadness loses its power to devour us.

Our feelings lose their control over us.

When we call upon it, we trade in our resentment for the quiet whisper of, “Go apologize.” We trade in our fear of condemnation for the quiet whisper of, “Go create.” We trade in our regrets about the past for the quiet whisper of, “Live this. Now.” We trade in our surge of shame for, “Be vulnerable, make yourself known.” We trade in years of “You’re a mess, you should be embarrassed,” for the quiet whisper of, “You’re a mess, join the club and start to live.”

On my WordPress dashboard, the “schedule” button will set this post to publish at 3:30am tomorrow morning. My feelings tell me to scrap it. My feelings tell me people will think I’m arrogant to speak so boldly. My feelings tell me people will think it’s all just a bunch of psychobabble.

But the quiet whisper from the still place says, “Schedule it, put it out there, your words matter, Kelly, and even if you get it all wrong, you are worthy.”

The whisper is like a drop of medicine, and I will push “schedule.”

Our feelings are keeping us captive. Killing our creativity. Stifling our love. Undermining our redemption. But what if we all stopped listening to them, and started listening to the still, quiet place inside?

I think it would be like a drop of soothing, healing medicine. I think our shame would dry up and our love would explode and the world would never be the same again.


Comments: You can share your thoughts or reactions at the bottom of this post.                

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Preview: Next Wednesday’s post is tentatively entitled, “Love No Longer Exists (And the World is Better Off)”

Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

79 thoughts on “What to Do When Our Feelings Are Lying to Us

  1. I am SO glad you pushed schedule!

    Well said, Kelly – well said.

    And great job on getting your son to get the drops in his eye.

  2. I, too, am so glad you went ahead and scheduled your post. I *needed* to read your words this morning and be reminded (and assured!) of the wise, still small voice inside of me. Thank you!

    • Debbie, I’m glad this came at the right time for you. Several others have mentioned tough mornings, and I sure can relate to waking up in a dark place and having someone or some words shine just a little bit of light into it. Glad I could do so today!

  3. I find that that “still, quiet place where I can do anything” gets louder and bigger the more I go there.
    Thanks for the beautiful read.

    • Wonderful point, Abigail. The more familiar it becomes, the more clearly we can hear it. Glad your quiet place is getting less quiet!

  4. I too, struggle with that schedule button for my blog. I can totally relate.

    I recently discovered the importance of monitoring my thoughts. It is easier to focus on negative thoughts, assumptions and fears. But once I started to pay attention and realized that I have control over what I think, I was able to open up a world of possibilities and I have accomplished so much more.

    Thank you for sharing. Your examples were perfect in driving the point home.

    I’m grateful that you posted.

    Missy Bell

  5. Hi, Kelly. Thanks so much for this post. It is so important for me in my marriage to never give my emotions the power to tell me what the truth is. Awesome reminder.

  6. I like the suggestion of finding that small place to overcome something within ourselves, I’ll remember that for next time I need it and to tell my son to do the same when he feels scared. I feel the same way when I go to publish my blog posts or anything I write. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say so keep pushing that button!

  7. See? You were right! People did, and do need to hear what you have to say, including me. This was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Thank you for listening to that still small voice, instead of the loud, obnoxious feelings.
    God bless!!

    • Thanks, Brett! And let me know when you think I botch one, and that will be a good conversation, too!

  8. So absolutely true! And a word fitly “spoken.” Keep it up, Kelly!
    Your story reminded me of when my kids were both scheduled for back-to-school vaccinations, and at 7 and 10 were screaming bloody murder in the doctor’s office, before the shot. Our son was chosen to get his first, and after he did, he (still screaming), cried out, “ELIZABETH! IT DOESN’T HURT!” Of course, he was lying through his teeth, as he later admitted, but he said he was trying to help her calm down. That’s when I knew my son loved his sister …. and I was so proud of him for trying to make it better for her.

    • Honestly, Michele, sweet stories like this about one sibling looking out for another get deep inside my heart. Thank you for sharing it, and your kids are learning that love somewhere–thanks for being such a blessing to them.

  9. I needed this post so, so much today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I spent the whole night in horrible pain after comfort eating. I needed to remember that quiet place in my mind, and that voice in my heart. I needed to hear someone else who I respect say that they feel those fears too. Your post inspired me to reach out to someone in my “ball team” of support regarding my ED. To have some self compassion. Thank you so very much, and please keep posting. Don’t let your fears silence you.

    • I don’t even know you and I’m proud of you for reaching out and making yourself vulnerable! I’m sure the members of your ball team have even more admiration for your courage. May your journey take you right into the heart of compassion.

  10. Great reading. I recognise this deceptive feeling. I encounter it in myself, when the woman I have dated for a few months and who am I starting to love suddenly is not available one evening. I know that most likely she has fallen asleep on the couch with her daughter. But from a black hole in my stomach a deceptive feeling is feeding my mind with bad visions. They are my own nightmares, based on previous bad experiences. And I know if I allow them to linger, they will ruin what we may be building. The only person that can stop them is me and it’s hard work to let them pass.

    So I cite the litany against fear, from the book “Dune”

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

    • This is beautiful. I had not come across it before. I hope typing it out made the words come to life in a cleansing way for you.

  11. Indeed we all need to listen to that quite and calm place inside of us. And Dr. kelly your words and blogs and books are very important to us. They show us the right way so please keep on writing and posting.

  12. Kelly, thank you so much for pushing “publish.” I really needed to hear this message today. I am dealing with anger and pain as the results of a betrayal of trust. Your message has given me a sense of peace and a gentle reminder that I have control. You have my sincere gratitude.

  13. Yup – I have the same publishing struggle. My weekly mantra is “Oh, well; what the hell.” It comes from the same place. But I think I will substitute your words, “the place where you can do anything.” In fact, they are now my quote for the week. Thanks!

    • Confession, Willa: I kind of like your mantra better. : ) I read every post. Keep ’em coming!

  14. This post speaks to me today. More often than not when challenged with “feelings that lie” I am equipped with enough power over them to realize when they are irrational and are better off ignored. But I have difficulties leaving them behind. Instead of forsaking them for confidence, bravery, and gumption. I settle down in their grasps with uncertainty, fear and panic. Perhaps all it takes is calming myself long enough to take the first step.
    Thank you.

  15. Amen! Similarly, in the words of Marianne Williamson:
    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear
    is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our
    darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be
    brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to
    be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.
    There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We
    were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Marianne Williamson,
    Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

    • Thank you for this, Colleen. The first part of that quote actually inspired my “Luminous Creatures” post but never made the final version! It’s good to read it in full here.

  16. Great post as always Dr. Kelly! I’m still striving for that quiet place inside but I’m sure it’s in there and that I’ll find it!
    Have a Blessed day!

  17. Thank you Dr. Kelly 🙂 I too am thankful that you “publish”.. your posts are often very relevant to my life, please don’t ever scrap them. I have been struggling so much lately with the lies my feelings tell me… and not only those but also the with the “lies from the feelings” of some of my family (mostly my adult kids)… I am sensitive to their criticism and they compound my own feelings and make the lies scream all the louder. My daughter and I finally had a session with a therapist the other day. I was finally able to say some of the things that I needed to say AND have someone in my corner. I need to show myself more grace… I need to stop giving them so much access to that part of myself.. I clearly have some work to do.

    • Hi Carol, I read your comment on the other post, as well. I think it’s fantastic that you have invested the time and energy into doing therapy with your adult daughter. I hope the work continues to pay dividends for you and for your relationship with her.

  18. Thanks, for being so bold. Lately, I have been confronted at every turn about my own anxieties and fears and long for the freedom that comes from getting beyond them. I don’t struggle to encourage friends and family, but I lost that gumption in my own head. As a matter of fact, as Colleen quoted, I wrote a note to a friend just last night that included Marianne Williamson’s words. Thanks, Kelly!

    • Erica, I love that this blog is attracting people who are attracted to Marianne Williamson’s beautiful words. May each of us learn to live them more fully every day, toward others and toward ourselves.

  19. Quiet place. Whispers. Healing. Inspired and beautifully crafted writing Kelly. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and heart. Did I say beautiful? Yes, I did.

  20. I enjoy reading the way you draw parallels between enlightening perspectives and your personal life as a husband and father. Thank you for taking the time to write and share your gift with us. God bless.

  21. Thank you and well said. This posting reminded me of this:
    “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”
    ― Paulo Coelho, Alchemist

    • Cat, Thank you for the reminder to read that book again. I read it a long time ago and I have a feeling it would be a richer experience now!

  22. Thank you so much for continuing to allow yourself be vulnerable and share meaningful thoughts so we can be vulnerable as well. Your posts have shone bright glimmers of light in darker days and appeared at the best of times. Keep writing and let that still, quiet place grow.

  23. I am tremendously grateful for the time each of you took to share such thoughtful and affirming words. As I said over on the Facebook page, the still, quiet voice should be enough and often it is, but it sure is nice to hear some louder, outside voices from time to time! I’ll be responding individually to some comments below, but please know I’m thankful for each and every one.

  24. I can definitely relate with this post! There are definitely those times when feeling lie and it stinks.

    As an aside, I had pink-eye twice when I was a kid and remember how terrible those drops were. Luckily for me (and my mom) my mom learned in between these two bouts of pink eye that equal parts baking soda and water actually cured pink eye as well and those drops were a lot less uncomfortable for me.

  25. Hello Kelly,
    Thank you for always finding that place in your heart that allows you to push the schedule button every week. I have not been a subscriber for a long time but I can honestly say that I do look forward to reading you message every week. In my community of 20 000 people (with a larger rural population) I serve many “jobs”. I am a funeral director, a Notary Public, a Marriage Commissioner, a church Cantor, and the only Justice of The Peace in the area. Why I mention this is that these roles expose me to many different kinds of people walking their own pathway of life and in many of my roles these are not so pleasant pathways. I must say that I do get much from your messages and they tend to help me give strength in various ways to myself and also to others who may not have the privilege of reading you messages. Please keep pushing schedule and know that we are reading your messages.
    Best regards,

    • You’re welcome, Jason, and thank you. I come from a large rural community myself; I can appreciate the challenge and complexity you experience in your multiple role relationships with folks. Blessings to you as you care for people in so many different ways!

  26. I have just read every comment and your responses. So many brave and vulnerable people. And you, Kelly, you have a healing heart, a kindness and a compassion that blows me away. Respect.

    • I take that as a huge compliment from a guy who just wrote a pretty awesome post about kindness. Thank you.

  27. Pingback: Attention Capturing News | Lost in-Elegant Cogitations
  28. Excellent blog! Thank you! So glad you push the schedule button as your words and thoughts are often a healing balm for me.

  29. For the past month I have been working with special needs teenagers. Their stories of botched operations, degenerative diseases, multiple special needs within single families… these kids, my student’s stories have finally caught up with me this week and I have found myself feeling very emotional. This was all triggered when I saw an able bodied 7yr old smoking a roll-your-own cigarette with his parents in the car next to me while waiting at the lights.Anger and sadness surged in me. “Am I going to die?” said my student back at school when he hugged me. Knowing that he is I hid my tears and said “I don’t want to die either.” I just wanted to share that because it’s kind of spilling out of me at the moment. I love that still small voice inside that says, “breathe… I’ve got this!”

    • Cat, Thank you for sharing this. I think, “I don’t want to die either” is one of the tenderest examples of love and joining I have ever heard. Thank you for making your pain available to us and the reminder that the still small voice is present, even in the darkest moments. Perhaps especially in those moments.

  30. Hi Kelly,
    I incindentally stumbled upon your blog about an hour ago, and I’ve been unable to pull away ever since! 😀
    I absolutely LOVE your writing (both what you write and the way you express your thoughts!)
    It’s amazing, witty, promising and inspiring (a.k.a. the perfect breakfast on a Saturday morning 🙂 )
    I’m so looking forward to your new posts, and don’t you for a second hesitate to schedule and publish them- they’re an absolute piece of art!!
    KInd regards!

    • Eve, thank you. What a wonderful, encouraging comment to receive. I’m glad you stumbled upon us; don’t hesitate to jump in and share your perspective!

  31. This is so meaningful, as an advocate for the deaf community in Pakistan I have a lot to publish and say but feel deep inside that I am not capable and this, this quiet space that let’s you be anything is what let’s me survive 🙂 Thank you for verbalizing it.

    • Sarah, I’m just verbalizing, you’re doing it. Thank you for the way you are serving our world.

  32. This is the third post of yours I’ve read tonight, after one was shared on my newsfeed. Thank you. I agree with the quiet voice that is telling you your words matter.

  33. I’ve stumbled onto you blog this morning and have been reading it for over an hour now. Your words, so full of grace and hope bring so much encouragement to a hurting world. Thank you for your honest, bold words. They are freeing hearts, at least they certainly are mine. Don’t stop writing.

    • Rachel, I often sign my emails “Grace and Hope,” I’m glad that is also coming through in the words on the blog. I’m glad you’ve found us. I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading!

  34. I stumbled upon one of your letters to your daughter tonight, you have a way with words that is so beautiful and touching. I can’t remember how many post I have read yet but I love them all. Especially thank you for this one, I really needed this. Thank you for all your encouragement and inspiration, and please, please don’t stop writing; you have a gift and the world is blessed by it.

    • Thank you for this. I’m glad you found the blog and I hope it continues to bless you!

  35. I am finally heading back to school after a 28 month absence. My partner decided to go to grad school in an attempt to better provide for us both and my undergraduate studies were put on hold – it was agreed upon mutually as long as when he finished, I could pursue my medical career. Now, the time has come. I can go back to school and pursue a career in healing, sympathy and care. But everything inside of me tells me to stay where I’m at. Degree-less, dreams forgotten, only because I fear I will not do as great as I am expected to do. The bar has been set so high. It seems everyone around me is certain of my future success. Except me. The anxiety that overcomes me whenever I think about the entrance exams, the applications, the work, the professors, the time it will take, is enough to send me on a full blown panic attack. So much so, that I’ve considered taking prescriptions to avoid these mental break downs. Then I start to worry about how good of a doctor I would actually be if I was dependent on benzodiazepines. After all, what good is a doctor who panics when faced with the unknown and a missed dose? Exactly. Then, I start negotiating with myself. Downsizing my goals. I can do nursing (and stay there) which takes less time. Less time means less opportunities for failure. Then, I convince myself a career in health studies is a mistake. Then I start considering a change of major. Because certainly, someone like me, who is undeniably unstable, overly caring and passionate, anxious and cowardly, cannot possibly HEAL others.

    That’s when my mind goes into disaster mode. As hard as my loving boyfriend tries, he cannot convince me otherwise. And as you can imagine, the cycle goes on and on and on. It’s vicious. It’s damning. It can break even the strongest psyche down to unworthy, miserable bits. All the bad feelings overpowering all the good.

    But then I found this entry because a page I liked on Facebook posted a link to the beautiful letters you wrote your children. And I’ve been hooked for the last 2 hours. I am SO very happy I did. I’ve bookmarked this entry and hope to read it whenever I feel I need a boost of encouragement in between chemistry and biology study sessions. I refuse to let my feelings of falling short interfere with my will to make it. I will listen to the quiet, still place where my dreams flourish, and silence the feelings that limit me.


    • It’s a beautiful image, of your dreams “flourishing” in the still, quiet place.

  36. You are very inspiring Kelly…please keep writing! You really give us something to think and talk about that is worthy of contemplating. I really love your posts!

    • Thank you, Cindy. I truly appreciate your words of encouragement, and I’m glad the posts have resonated with you!

  37. that was very helpful to me! I often struggle with my feelings lying to me and when another writes or talks about it I get lifted 🙂 Thank you

  38. Well, I’m pretty excited to have ‘stumbled’ upon you, for many reasons. I just subscribed to your blog and ordered your book. My husband and I have been experiencing great difficulty over the past few years. We’ve stuck it out for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we do love each other AND, bottom line, we are very well suited to each other in many enduring types of ways. I won’t go into details on a public forum, but let’s say that when I read your blog on ‘why children should say no’, I knew I had to read your work. I’very been extremely fortunate, throughout the past 25 years, (I’m 56) I’ve had a few great therapists. I worked HARD… and I paid a HUGE cost for having the ‘you know what’s’ to finally establish boundary lines with my family of origin. It has been SO worth it! I very much support my 68 yr old husband in his quest to define himself and learn how to establish boundary lines, BUT… the WAY he goes about it causes many problems. I lived the life of a ‘people pleaser’, and came out the other side. For years I’ve been urging my husband to stand up for himself, with EVERYONE, including me, and now, through therapy, he’s doing it. I say BRAVO, I only wish he wasn’t behaving like a dictator while he’s learning. It’s hard to remain supportive when your partner is being nasty and inappropriate AS they learn. I’m hoping that with time and practice and a LOT of support and patience from me, he’looks achieve his goals without irreparably damaging our marriage. He keeps telling me that ‘the process’ shouldn’t be important…. just the end result. I disagree in that if his process is rude, nasty and negative to me, he COULD end up alone before he ‘gets there’. I hope I’m making sense. .. In any event, I truly look forward to reading your work… and I hope my husband will read it as well!! Thank you.

    • I’m excited you stumbled upon us, too, Julie! And, yes, you make complete sense. I indirectly wrote a little bit about what your husband is going through in the “An Invitation to Dance Like No One is Watching” post, where I talk about how anger and aggression are often the first ways we learn to set really strong boundaries. After we’ve gotten good at it, hopefully we learn to do so gracefully. Keep working with him and he’ll get there!

  39. Your articles are always so meaningful. This article on, Are our Feelings Lying to Us?” is such a critical concept that can’t be over addressed, in my opinion. we need to keep moving forward by using love and responsibility as our guide when we have a hint that our feelings are lying to use.

  40. Wow…that place inside of you where you can do anything. It’s timeless, ageless, all-purpose and so simple. And we all have it anytime we need it. I’ll be sharing this with my kids.

  41. Excellent post, I think we all have an inner voice that is the doubter, that says we are not good enough, at sometimes my self esteem is stronger than others and I can “feel the fear” and do or say it anyway. I am a work in progress in making those times outweigh the quiet introspective insecure times. I thank you for sharing yourself with us Kelly, I am really enjoying the e book and posts

    • Well said, Christine. It’s about making the courageous times outweigh the ones where we let ourselves be silenced. You’re very welcome, and I’m glad you found us!

  42. This is more or less exactly what I needed to read. I’ve had to tell myself this over and over, it’s good to know that others have found this plan, and it’s nothing to be worried about.

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