Response to “Why Can’t You Hear What I Feel?” Comment

Robert Smith commented on Why Can You Hear What I Feel? He writes…

I understand your point — that we should validate another person’s feelings and show empathy — but there are some people who have a very distorted, self-centered view of the world. Their feelings really are invalid, at times.

For example, suppose a person is a hypochondriac. They say they feel sick, but they are not.  Their feelings do not change the fact that they are healthy.  Conversely, suppose a person feels healthy, but a deadly cancer is starting to grow inside his/her body. They feel fine, but that does not change the fact that they are sick.

We can extend this analogy to the Christian faith. A non-believer may feel that they are doing just fine with “the man upstairs.” In reality, they are very sick, and need healing in the form of Jesus Christ. A believer may feel guilt for sins for which they are forgiven, but it is not a valid feeling because Jesus paid the price.

My Comments on Robert’s Comments:

First, thank you Robert for taking time to comment. I like it when people think, even when their thoughts may not agree with mine. I believe we all benefit from healthy discussions and different points of view. So, again, thank you. I genuinely appreciate it.

Second, allow me to perhaps bridge the seeming gap in what I wrote and you wrote. You state that with some people “their feelings really are invalid, at times.” Then you illustrate with a hypothetical hypochondriac. You write “They say they feel sick, but they are not.  Their feelings do not change the fact that they are healthy.” You give more illustrations, but for the sake of time let’s just think about this one.

I probably wouldn’t classify “feeling sick” as an emotion, which is what my original writings addressed – understanding emotions. I would likely see “feeling sick” as a statement of fact from the perspective of the speaker. You are correct that her interpretation of the fact may be inaccurate if she really is healthy, but that would not necessarily mean that the emotion she feels is incorrect, or as you phrased it, invalid. From the point of view of Why Can’t You Hear What I Feel? I would seek to understand the emotion underlying the statement rather than arguing over the validity of the statement. The emotion, whatever it is, is real for that person. In that sense, it is valid.

For example, if I were to say something such as “You are NOT sick! Quit thinking like that. Get over it.” I disagree with her over a matter of logic / fact / truth. If she BELIEVES she is sick, which of us do you think she will believe has no contact with reality? I think it would be I. Therefore, what have I accomplished? My disagreeing won’t change her belief. It also won’t change the way she feels.

However, if I were to try to understand what emotions underlie her statement, maybe I could actually have positive influence. For example, if I were to ask, “Feeling sick is never pleasant. How long have you felt this way?” I’ll receive “facts” from her perspective. Once she knows I’m listening I can gradually move to “how is this affecting what you think and feel inside?” I may hear an answer such as, “It scares me.”

Let’s continue that hypothetical conversation…

“It scares me.” she says.

“I hate being scared…what about this is scaring you?” I reply.

“I’m afraid of dying.”

“I’ve had to deal with those emotions myself a time or two. What do you think about when you think about dying?” I continue.

Well, you get the point. I may hear that she’s been afraid since she was three and watched her Dad drop dead of a heart attack. Or maybe she’s living some secret that has her terrified of going to hell. Who knows what it will be (and we both know that conversation would go a lot slower than I illustrated). As with my original point, it is when she knows that I genuinely care about what she feels, rather than trying to tell her in any fashion – implicitly or explicitly – that she is wrong, that we will eventually communicate on a deep level. Then, and only then, might I have a chance to help her face her hypochondriasis. Arguing with her about it probably never would get me to that point.

Sometimes in my mind I think of it this way…does the other person perceive me as an adversary across the table or an ally on his side of the table…and, if he doesn’t see me as being on his side, how do I get on his side of the table?

I realize, Robert, that you likely agree with what I’ve just written. As you stated, you get the point. What I’m trying to do is to show how that sometimes we think we are hearing emotions when we actually are hearing a person’s own view of facts / truth / logic or whatever you wish to call it. I believe that it is when we get to the underlying emotions that we reach the point where we can make a difference.

Just before ending, let me quickly address the other things you pointed out by assuring you that I would take the same approach with a sick person denying he is sick, a lost person who thinks he is saved, or a saved person who thinks he may be lost. Maybe I’m a bit off balance, but I have in those situations used my approach to help people get medical assistance, die in peace, find Jesus, or discover the peace of grace.




  1. Dan Gill

    Thanks for this, Joe. It has taken me a long time to understand this, and I still don’t do a very good job of it . . . when it is someone else’s emotions. I’m pretty good at defending mine.

    My question is, if the emotions obviously do not match the facts, what do you do? How do you help someone move past that? Take the boy in your example. What he did to his mother may have been triggered by his embarrassment, but that doesn’t change the fact that he lashed out at someone who was completely innocent. So you got to the trigger, but did that change anything for the future? (Naturally, you couldn’t tell the kid’s entire story.)

    Perhaps I should ask this a different way: Are there no times when our emotions are just plain wrong?

  2. Anthony Hollander

    And he by no uncommon lot Was famed for virtues he had not.