Follow your Heart straight to destruction

Follow your heart…Straight into destruction:
Why The “Follow Your Heart” Mentality can be not only damaging, but dangerous.

Time for an unpopular opinion: “Follow your heart” is some of the most foolish “wisdom” of our generation. The notion of being guided by your passions and feelings has grown in American culture since the 60s and has resulted in heightened loneliness, relational brokenness, career dissatisfaction, depression, and a loss of meaning in many of our lives.

Emotions can’t always be trusted.

Ah, emotions, the rollercoaster ride of our inner world. While they certainly add color and depth to our human experience, trusting them blindly is like putting your faith in a weather forecast delivered by a squirrel – unpredictable at best, downright misleading at worst.

Feelings are Fickle: Emotions have a tendency to change. What you feel in one moment might be entirely different in the next. Trusting them to steer your life’s course is like building a house on shifting sands – it’s bound to collapse eventually.

Have you ever had a moment of supreme annoyance with your spouse? That moment when you think, “What a stupid human I have chosen to build my life with. I can’t believe he would do something so foolish/ be so irresponsible/ parent so impatiently/ snore so insanely/ [fill in the blank]!” I’m assuming not just me. In that moment if you decide to follow your heart, you might inform your spouse of how stupid you find them which of course will result in conflict, anger, resentment, painful responses, perpetuate spiteful behaviors, etc. If in that moment you instead bite your tongue, you may find that very shortly your feelings toward your spouse have already changed. “Wow he was so considerate, caring, helpful, patient, etc.” And this shift can happen within minutes!

If I listen to my brain, I consider the bigger picture of our relationship, both the good and bad, and can make a more reasonable response. I can engage my coping skills to take a time to calm down and think before I address frustration. I can decide whether the issue actually needs to be addressed or whether I can let go of the fact that my spouse folds his laundry incorrectly. If I listen to my values, I can choose to speak to my spouse with kindness, honesty, and compassion, instead of reacting in rage or spite. I can choose to respond in a way that reinforces my character, builds my own self-esteem, and builds our relationship.

Feelings Don’t Always Align with Reality: From hormonal fluctuations to external stimuli to that questionable burrito you had for lunch, emotions are easily swayed by a myriad of influences. Relying on them to make important decisions is like trying to navigate a maze blindfolded while someone keeps rearranging the walls.

Ever had a moment of pure, unadulterated rage over something that, in hindsight, seems trivial? Speak up during such a moment and you are likely to burn a bridge within relationships, which may or may not be repairable. Emotions have a way of distorting our perception of reality, making it difficult to see things clearly. Emotions have a way of hijacking our rational thought processes, leading us down paths that defy logic and reason.

I remember a particular morning many years ago when I was pregnant and hormonal. I left our bed at 5am to go to the bathroom and when I returned, my unconscious husband had rolled to my side of the bed. When I attempted to roll him back to his side, he made a sleepy grunt/ growl type sound. This filled me with fiery rage. I suddenly swirled with thoughts of what a selfish man he was, and how dare he be crabby with me for returning to MY bed!?  I laid in bed fuming for several minutes before I realized I was way too worked up to return to sleep.

The emotional turmoil continued as I left for work and spiraled into deep depression over the state of our relationship that my husband would make me feel so rejected! A few hours later, I called him in tears honestly feeling like the marriage was broken, to which he unsurprisingly responded, “Wait, what are you talking about?” He had no memory of making a noise or even feeling frustration toward me at all—remember he was asleep. He was shocked by my spiral and approached me with understanding and compassion and the issue was quickly resolved. He even asked me to come to him sooner if I was feeling intense pain again, so we could work through it before I wasted another morning suffering.

In hindsight, it seems I was not being entirely rational in my emotions that morning. It is possible that my emotions were being hijacked just a bit by my hormones. And thank goodness I didn’t react in ways (and my husband didn’t react in ways) that would cause lasting damage to our loving relationship. I now share this story with laughter because, of course it sounds ridiculous, but in the moment, our heart tells us that everything we feel is true.

Following your Heart can Lead to Impulsive Decisions: Emotions have a knack for making us act first and think later, often resulting in decisions we later regret. Have you ever purchased something because the sale was only good through the next day then realized you didn’t want it that badly? Ever blasted someone on social media without thinking about the consequences for that person or how it makes you look? Ever been reprimanded at work when you gave that coworker, customer, or your boss a piece of your mind? Have you made an important decision about career, sex, relationships, health, parenting, etc. in the heat of the moment and later had regret? Most of us have, and usually following our heart is to blame. Last I checked, logic, reason, and critical thinking were pretty handy tools for making life decisions.

It can Lead to a Loss of Our Character:

We often justify the foolishness of following our feelings with pretty labels like, “I’m just a passionate person.” It might be more accurate to say, “I’m just reckless, selfish, foolish, or don’t want to be accountable for my decisions.”  Your character is defined by your choices, so if you are consistently following your heart, your choices may not reflect very favorably on your character or values. Someone who is “just a flirty person” might be demonstrating their selfish, attention-seeking character. Someone who is “just an impulsive” person might be demonstrating their irresponsible, immature character. Someone who is quick to burn bridges in conflict is demonstrating their unforgiving, uncompromising character. Someone who steals, cheats or lies because they “deserve” something, is demonstrating their deceitful character.

And do not fall prey to the lie that your character is truly based on the values you say out loud or put on a plaque in your home. Your values are demonstrated by the way you live. If you value being a kind person, that is demonstrated when you behave in kindness toward those around you (especially when you are not feeling like being kind.)  If you value being an honest person, that is demonstrated by not cutting corners, not lying or gossiping, and not avoiding the truth from fear of others disappointment. Feelings easily lead us astray from living out the character we want to have.

Now, don’t get me wrong; emotions are an integral part of what makes us human. They add richness and depth to our experiences, fuel our passions, and connect us to others on a profound level. But they’re best enjoyed in moderation and with a healthy dose of skepticism. So, the next time you find yourself at the mercy of your emotions, take a step back, take a deep breath, engage your rational brain, and consult a trusted friend. Life’s journey is less about blindly following whims and more about finding a balance between passion and practicality. And far more importantly, life is about making meaning, learning who you are and who you want to be, understanding the values that shape your character and making choices that align with those values.


May 2024, Jenny Beall, Counselor, Threads of Hope Counseling