Knowing versus Feeling

So the other day I posted about the nightmares I’ve been having. In the comments, I started a discussion with Francesco Bellafante about the disconnection between what I know and what I feel. And as promised, I put down some of my thoughts on the matter. And I’ll be darned if it didn’t turn out a lot longer than I expected or intended.

Let me start by saying I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. My biggest problem seems to be the instability of my emotions, although that has gotten better with Dialectical Behavior Therapy and medications (which I no longer take). The way I feel (although I’m not able to put words to those feelings effectively) tends to bounce around, but not in a bipolar way. The best word I’m usually able to come up with is yucky. Only one word to describe the many different things I’m feeling.

For a bit of a historical background… Before I began working with a therapist when I was in graduate school (around 1997) I lived my life cognitively. I would have made Mr. Spock proud. I was almost emotionless as Mr. Data . Heh… Can you tell I’m a Star Trek fan?

But back on topic… I saw no need for emotions or feeling and thus buried them as deep as I could. Granted, it got rid of the negative ones, but it also eliminated the positive ones. As I started working through the abuse, those repressed emotions and feelings came flooding to the surface, many times completely uncontrollable. They left me exhausted and terrified that I was losing my mind.

Fast forward about ten years. I’m somewhat more comfortable with feelings, but I still don’t like them. I have a lot of problems putting names to what I’m feeling. Between being discouraged from talking about my feelings while growing up and then later stuffing them, it’s no wonder I have no idea what to call them. I feel “yucky” (as I told my previous therapists many times) but I don’t know how to name that yucky feeling.

I don’t always trust my feelings as they feel so irrational. I do however trust my thinking for the most part. I can be rational and logical. I can reason through almost any problem. Basing my actions on my feelings, rather than what I know, is frightening at best for me. And sometimes, it can be downright dangerous as demonstrated by my suicidal ideations.

When I did my eight month stint in the hospital in 2001, I participated in DBT and worked hard with the group leaders on integrating my thoughts and my feelings, but not with a significant degree of success. The slight gains I did make, I seem to have lost. Mostly I think because I stopped using and practicing those skills.

So, in some ways, because I have so little experience with my emotions, I have a hard time understanding them. I feel one way, even though I know the way I feel isn’t logical or rational. And it doesn’t change those feelings knowing that they aren’t realistic.

So, how to apply it to the example from the comments? My rational side knows that the suicidal thoughts are temporary and will usually go away once I manage to get some sleep. That is, my current suicidal ideations are a direct consequence of sleep deprivation (and to some extent the flashbacks and memories). I’ve dealt with this my entire life. The less I sleep, the stronger the thoughts become. But my feelings tell me that there is no end to this. Life will never get any better and I’m better off ending it all. I will always and forever feel like complete crap. There is no hope for change. The emotional consequences of sleep deprivation and depression are extremely powerful. They leave me in so much pain that the only option seems to be ending my life.

I can stand back and look at the entire situation rationally. Almost like being a third party examining what is going on. And I can see that what I know to be true (that the suicidal ideations will pass) and what I feel (that there is no end in sight) are two different things. The problem is reconciling the two into a more realistic view of the world. I guess that would be acknowledging the feelings but realizing they are temporary and will get better.

I also think this disconnect is one of the reasons my therapist gave me the assignment on asking me friends why they like me. Again, I know that there are good things about me or I wouldn’t have any friends. But I feel like I’m lower than a steaming cow pie.


Adapted from Linehan, M.M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. The Guilford Press, New York and London.



Getting to the diagram above, I tend to live my life on one side or the other. I have a hard time hitting that middle ground. It’s something that I know I need to work on. I’m thinking about buying that workbook because I can’t seem to find the handouts they gave me while I was in the hospital.

I hope this makes some sort of sense to people. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to explain. And as I’m working with four hours of sleep in roughly the last 72, I’m not as coherent as I’d like to be.

10 thoughts on “Knowing versus Feeling

  1. MayPoles of life says:

    I believe thie last sentence, in this last entry is so very true “The peace you seek is inside of you, I assure you, and it is up to you to find it, and I believe you can… sincerely”….. it IS there my friend, just please be patient with yourself. I trust you, and I trust you will find it. I want you to know, when I am having a difficult time sleeping (for many reasons), I invision Christs feet, I pour all of my concerns and worries there, (as He tells us to) I just simply trust in Him with all of my heart, to help me. I will continue to hold you in my prayers.

  2. I’ve just started DBT recently but I appreciate it so far. I tend to think that if I feel X is real, then X is real, and to act otherwise would be to lie or pretend or betray myself or however you want to phrase it. I am working on learning how to acknowledge that the feeling is a real feeling even if its content is irrational or untrue, and that being true to myself involves feeling the feeling, but I don’t have to act on it.

  3. Thanks for the post Kathryn, you certainly made it easier for me to see the distinctions between thinking or knowing and feeling as you see them. With that said it does seem to me from what you wrote that you have certainly taken ground on being able to see the reason or lack of reason present in the emotional or feeling side of your thinking.

    I can personally relate to what not sleeping can cause within a person’s psyche. During the winter of ’97-’98 I slept about 0-3 hourse per night for about three months. Thinking back if someone asked me to distinguish between my thoughts and my feelings I don’t think I would have been as open to exploring the question as you are, so I want to acknowledge you doing so.

    I was extremely unhappy during this period. I was doing well in life according to many measures, but I felt incredibly unfulfilled. I saw no worthwhile purpose in what I was doing with my life, and I thought myself into a corner regarding what I could do to change that. I FELT tired, depressed, unhappy and afraid… I THOUGHT, this will never end, there is nothing else I can do, this is never going to change, this will go on forever.

    It is easy for me to draw that line now, although at the time, I think I would have been hard pressed to differentiate.

    I think the key to working through your feelings or the ‘less than rational’ thoughts that your mind produces is to NOT BELIEVE yourself. It sounds like you already do this… you THINK, the only way to not feel this way is to end my life. Then you THINK something else… i.e. That’s not true, my life experience tells me that nothing lasts and this FEELING is no different.

    Taking it to the absurd – you accidentally burn your hand very badly by grabbing, very firmly, a very hot pan on the stove. The pain is excruciating. Let’s pretend you are unaware of your body’s ability to heal itself and eventually ‘end the pain’. Instead you THINK, my life is ruined, this pain is too much to bear, I do not THINK I can live this way, with this pain, I THINK I may have to end my life to end the pain.

    Silly right? But is it? Isn’t that what suicidal people do/think. This will never end, so I may as well end it all.

    The challenge – unlike a burned hand, the “healing of the mind” is seemingly not as “automatic” or involuntary as the healing of a burnt hand, but it can be if you make it so…. I think anyway. That’s a subject for another post.

    You did all that writing and thinking with only 4 hours in 72 – that’s impressive if not inspiring Kathryn. It seems to me you already have found a key determinant in your health of the mind – sleep.

    The peace you seek is inside of you, I assure you, and it is up to you to find it, and I believe you can… sincerely.

  4. I mean to take nothing away from MayPoles of life post, but I want to point out the following…

    You could envision a big bowl of freshly picked strawberries and put all of your ocncerns and worries there or anywhere else for that matter.

    I think the ONLY belief necessary to heal oneself is a belief in the power of one self. You may certainly believe that the source of power of your self lies somewhere outside of you, however I do not believe that belief in an external source of power to overcome challenges within yourself is necessary.

    You only make it necessary if you create a paradigm or way of thinking that says it is.

    The famous “12 step programs” like Alcoholics Anonymous seem to be built upon the foundation that there is some supernatural or supreme causer or power.

    I think this thinking potentially excludes helping people who think that no such power or causer exists.

    Jesus of Nazreth, if he existed, was likely a human being. So for practical intents and purposes, Jesus, the human being, has not told anyone anything for centuries.

    I understand how some people feel so connected with the stories and teachings of historical figures that they speak and write as if the person, or their “spirit” is “alive” in their lives.

    I’m offering that someone’s reliance on the idea of someone’s “spirit” that has died a long time ago is an arbitrary thing to do – it is learned behavior. Explained simply enough, there are many places on Earth where if you were born there you could live your whole life and never hear or read a single story about the man called Jesus of Nazreth.

    What you believe “works for you” or it doesn’t, and what “works for you”, may or may notwork for someone else. It is up to each of us to think what we want to think, to believe if you will, what we want to believe.

  5. great post Kat. Very informative.
    I think the difficulty in existing in that ‘stable’ middle ground of emotions and moods is one of the defining factors in mental health problems.
    I (and Ian seems to agree with me) like to view the mind as a sliding scale where the middle ground is rational, stable and logical thought, with a stable range of emotions and responses to stimuli. People generally waft around this centre mark, moving up and down on the scale depending on their own issues and neurosis, but tending to slide back towards the middle when not upset or being provoked by life.
    Then there are the people with mental health issues, who seem to exist at the nether regions of the scale almost continuously, sliding from one extreme to the other maybe due to social or mental stimuli, and various other triggers.
    Occasionally they come to rest towards the middle and have moments of clarity, and peace, but this doesn’t last very long before something triggers them and sends them whooshing back towards the nether regions again.
    This model essentially marks people with mental health problems as being ‘unstable’ which to some may have negative connotations, is actually a very good adjective. I think something that many people with mental health issues would state as their desired goal is just some stability, some peace from the constant emotional upheaval and mood changes. To be able to relax and believe that you will feel the same tomorrow, and be able to lead a relatively sensible rational life. Instability is certainly something that plagues me constantly. I have no lack of skills or intelligence, but the ability to keep myself in the right mindset or focus for long enough to make life better or more comfortable is sadly lacking. The only tool I have at my disposal is obsessive focus, pursuing one task at the expense of all others, which does help me achieve things, does so at the cost of everthing else in my life, and leads to mental and physical exhaustion.

    This is more of a blog post than a comment, so I apologise Kat for blathering on in your space!

  6. Hey there… no apologizing on my blog :) If I didn’t want comments on this, I would have closed it. But I do want comments.

    What you said makes perfect sense. And you said it a lot more clearly than I did.

    When I get into one of those emotional states, it does feel completely unstable. And I know that living life without emotions is not the best thing (that middle ground is the ideal) but it makes me feel more stable because I’m not bouncing around like crazy.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I really do appreciate all the comments on this entry.

  7. sisyphusledge says:

    I am truly impressed by the degree of insight you have shown through writing this post. A lot of what I would have said has already been said by others, but I wanted to let you know what a great post this is.
    Someone else said somewhere in the blogosphere, that it might be nice to leave a little mark below a post to say that you’ve (i.e. me) read it, but either are still thinking about it or don’t have the words at the time to reply. I often feel that way; I read your posts, but sometimes people have already said the things I was going to say or I am still pondering.
    However, until I find an acceptable way of letting people know that I read their posts without leaving a comment sometimes, but nevertheless enjoyed reading them, I carry on as I have done.
    Take care, Katm,

  8. I think Sis is practicing the usual madweasel habit of overcomplicating life… :)
    I believe there is an archaic sigil that can be used in these circumstances to indicate enjoyment and appreciation without getting involved in discussion. One which I often forget to use myself when confronted with posts that I read, enjoy, make me think, elucidate my own thoughts or otherwise make the world a slightly better place in which I feel I might actually belong.


  9. I don’t always trust my feelings as they feel so irrational. I do however trust my thinking for the most part. I can be rational and logical. I can reason through almost any problem…

    This is the part that strikes me because it’s what I know about myself. I trust my sense of reason but I do not trust my feelings. I can intellectualize with the best of them but to connect feelings with my thoughts seems like something I’ll never really get to. I wonder though if I can get closer to the middle, even if I never make it to the middle I’d at least like to get closer.


  10. WhoreChurch says:

    I happen to be up as I just got back from the emergency room with my 18 year old when I caught this post.

    I would be happy to talk to you if you need some support. I don’t think I have been as deeply hurt as you, but I can listen and possibly encourage. My phone is — and my name is Kevin

    (Deleted phone number ~Kathryn)

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