Feelings vs. Behavior

This is an excerpt from an article by S. P. Hein called Caring, Regret, Change

It is common for teachers or parents to insist that one child apologize to another. Yet the first child feels neither regret nor empathy. This is a good example that you can force behavior, but not the underlying feelings.

This simple truth, that you can force behavior but not feelings, is the basis of many social problems. It is so simple, yet it is so often overlooked, forgotten, or never realized.

Throughout our lives people want us to behave a certain way. They use many tactics, strategies and methods to get us to do so. The overwhelming emphasis in psychology has been on behavior. Behavior modification. Behavior control. Behavioral therapy. Conditioning. Punishment and rewards.

Behavior is easier to see, measure, and quantify. One person's behavior serves another. The behavior of the worker serves the employer. The behavior of the citizens serve the rulers and politicians. The behavior of the slave serves the needs and desires of the master.

An important question to always remember to ask ourselves is: Does the master care about how the slave feels? Does the boss care how the worker feels? Does the teacher care how the student feels? Does the parent care how the child or teen feels?

It is much easier for a teacher to get one child to apologize to another, than for her to get the child to really feel regret and remorse for their action. In other words, it is easier to force the behavior the teacher wants than to force the feelings. We might say then that in general it is easier to force behavior than feelings. We might also say it is easier to control behavior than feelings.

Since it is natural for most humans to do what is easier and quicker, it makes sense that so much of human history and human interaction is based on behavior control. But what then of feelings? What happens when the feelings don't match the behavior?

What happens is that our
emotional needs get neglected on a massive scale. When needs are not met, problems follow just as surely as water flows downhill.

Our feelings are indicators of the state of our emotional needs. When an emotional need is unmet, our bodies send us a signal, just as when we are hungry, our bodies alert us. When emotional needs are unmet we feel dissatisfied, frustrated, discontent. When our emotional needs are met, satisfied or filled, we feel content, satisfied, good.

As a way of summarizing, here are some points to remember:

1. Sincere apologies are very powerful.

2. Sincere apologies arise from sincere feelings.

3. While behavior can be forced, sincere feelings, and therefore, sincerity itself, cannot.

4. When behavior is controlled without regard for the underlying feelings, emotional needs get neglected.

5. When emotional needs are not met, personal and social problems quickly follow.

Core Topics






Conflict Resolution

Emotional Literacy