Perceptions vs. Feelings: How to Tell the Difference

Perceptions vs. Feelings: How to Tell the Difference

Perceptions are meaning-making; they help us interpret experience.  But feelings are experience.  Recognising the difference between when we’re actually feeling something instead of perceiving something gives us the power to soothe our discontent.

How to tell the difference?

If you can replace the word “I feel” at the start of your sentence with “I think” and the sentence still makes sense, chances are you’re describing a perception.

For example, “I think” can replace “I feel” in the sentence “I feel abandoned.”  As in, “I think I’m being abandoned” or “I think you’re abandoning me,” and the sentence still makes sense.  Whereas even if you use “I think” to begin a feeling sentence, you still have to use the word “feel” to represent a feeling, as in “I think I’m feeling hopeless” or, more simply, “I feel hopeless.”

Also – can you notice how when used in a perceptions actually imply action by someone else?  As in, “I think I’m being abandoned [by you].”  This means you’re actually interpreting someone’s behaviours or intentions.  This doesn’t happen with feelings “I’m feeling hopeless by you” just doesn’t make sense.

Here are some common words that are often confused as feelings when they are actually perceptions:

Abandoned                 Attacked                     Betrayed                     Blamed                        Cheated                      Criticised                     Ignored                        Manipulated         Misunderstood                       Neglected                    Patronized                  Pressured                    Rejected                      Put Down

If I’m stuck thinking that I’m abandoned, I’m actually spending more time getting caught up ascribing meaning to my partner’s actions than I am paying attention to what my feelings are trying to tell me.

Feelings are like messengers.  They carry bits of information which can help us identify needs.  If I’m lonely, I don’t need a hot bath or yoga or meditation to help soothe my loneliness, I need my people – my community, a dinner party, some singing and dancing and companionship!  No amount of hot baths are going to make me feel less lonely.  So if we pay attention to feelings they can tell us how to effectively soothe our needs.

Of course, we can have feelings about our perceptions.  Thinking that I’m abandoned can lead me to feel lonely.  But now I’ve got direct experience, the feeling of loneliness and the longing ache in the center of my chest, that wants to drive me to my needs.  This we can work with.

The four main feelings are:

Mad                 Sad                  Glad                 Scared

Pretty much everything else is just an off-shoot from one of those.  But take some time to build your feelings vocabulary and you’ll be surprised how many feeling words there are!  Here’s a great list to get you started.


By: Dr. Elizabeth Landau