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Feelings are Not Always Fact

This simple line is helpful for anyone, however, it is especially helpful for someone who is highly sensitive. Why? Because highly sensitive individuals are born with a nervous system that processes everything in life a bit more deeply, including feelings. I remember growing up and wishing that there was a physical scale that could visually show the level that I was feeling at, simply because my emotions always seemed to be more extreme than the next person. I wanted a clear way to show peers and loved ones the intensity of what I was feeling, but also be able to compare with others to see if I really was feeling to the degree I sensed I was.

But, with feeling more, we must also remember that feelings are not always fact. I sometimes recommend that my clients use this as a mantra throughout their day: “feelings are not always fact.” This specific line comes from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.

This reminder is especially helpful for examples such as these: A friend texted you back and used one extra period than maybe they would have before (if you are a non-texter, imagine that you were talking on the phone with someone and they became more quiet than usual). You sense the shortness that the period or silence portrayed. You start to overthink and question what just happened. This is followed by some internal sensations: heart is pounding, stomach is tight. Your inner alarm system is going off, questioning: "did I do something wrong?"

Did you do something wrong? Maybe. But this is where I would suggest to clients that they take a pause and evaluate the situation a bit further.

Highly sensitive individuals are wired process subtle cues more deeply. You noticed the subtle difference of your friend using an extra period in their response. Not only may you sense the subtle difference from how they usually speak, but chances are if your friend is actually feeling off, you probably energetically felt that too (yes, even through the phone.) As mentioned before, the sensations and stimulation you are experiencing in your body are signalling that something is off. But, if we pause and zoom out a bit, it could actually have nothing to do with you, and it is important that you allow this reality to be an option as well. We can lean a bit on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy here by checking the evidence. If there has been a consistent amount of evidence lately that your friend is responding differently to you, then maybe it is time to check in and see if you did in fact upset them in some way. However, if this seems out of the blue (even though your nervous system is signalling something different) there is a high chance that maybe your friend did it without even realizing. Or, maybe they are feeling off, but it is for a completely different reason other than you.

A suggestion that may help is to ask a safe person in your life if you read the situation correctly or not. I just did this with my mom the other week actually. We were having a conversation, and the way she responded to me had a different tone than usual. We continued to talk, but as we did, my inner alarm system was going off big time. I was overstimulated. My mind and body were telling me I said something wrong, that I upset her. I decided to check in, knowing that my mom was going to be honest and gentle with her response. Turns out, she actually was going through the same thing... she thought that she had said something wrong to me, so it caused her to speak to me a bit differently as her inner alarm system was also going off. Interesting eh? This was an important example of how our feelings are not always fact, and how asking for this clarity brought a lot of confirmation for both of us (and also a giggle). As you may have already guessed, my mom is highly sensitive as well. She describes herself as an extroverted highly sensitive person though, which makes up about 30% of the HSP population. Highly sensitive individuals also tend to think often, and think deeply. It is easy for our minds to jump to the future and latch onto problems that could occur. This can most certainly signal the inner alarm system to go off: heart pounding, racing thoughts, pit in stomach (hello anxiety!) You think: “my body is giving me these uncomfortable sensations and signals. Something must be wrong, right?"…. Well, maybe not. I am a big promotor of listening to the signs and signals of your body, as it is often trying to give you direction towards health and balance. However, this is again a case of feelings not always being fact. Just because thinking about the future can cause some uncomfortable sensations, it does not necessarily mean that this future experience is going to be a bad one. If you only think about the bad, you will most likely cause some overstimulation in your body, and you will get symptoms of discomfort and anxiety. But that is usually all it is: discomfort. It is not a crystal ball telling you what is surely going to happen. A couple suggestions I have: 1) Placing your overarousal on a scale to start noticing how often situations are causing you to become overstimulated. 2) Coming back to presence by doing one thing at a time. 3) Create the reminder for yourself: feelings are not always fact.


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