The Head and the Heart: Why separation matters

When it comes to issues about separation of the head and the heart, I’m always reminded of a moment from the DreamWorks movie Over the Hedge. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, all you really need to know is that RJ the raccoon is using a small family of different animals to help him collect enough food to give to a bear in order to save his own life. The animals don’t know this fact, but the group’s leader, Verne the turtle, has always been suspicious of RJ because of the way his tail tingles around him, which is apparently his main source of decision-making. Anyway, after a lot of stuff happens, Verne and RJ get into a conversation in which Verne explains his recent confusion, saying, “My head says listen to my tail, my tail says listen to my head, and I just…end up with an upset stomach.” Unable to decide which source to listen to, Verne just ends up confused, frustrated, and feeling sick to his stomach. This is a perfect example of why head and heart separation is so important.

First off, let me explain what I mean by head and heart separation. The way I see it, people generally have two sources where their general decision-making comes from: their head and their heart. The head, obviously, is the brain, where people think through their options, use logical reasoning, and are able to make intelligent decisions because of those capabilities. The heart is a bit more difficult to get a hold of. The heart involves a person’s greatest desires, their wants and needs, their goals and dreams, as well as their emotions, “gut feelings,” and instincts. Both are perfectly valid to listen to and follow when it comes to making decisions. Each one has its own areas where it excels over the other. However, every now and then there comes a time when the two don’t seem to get along. Your head says listen to your heart, your heart says listen to your head, and you just end up with an upset stomach. Or the exact opposite happens, when your head and your heart are saying completely different things, and you struggle to figure out which one to listen to in a given situation. This is when head and heart separation is critical. It involves separating your feelings and emotions from facts that you know to be true in order to make a clear, logical decision. The separation of the head and the heart is a delicate procedure. Oftentimes, it’s a connection that needs to be severed, which usually causes confusion and heartache. But ultimately, it can lead to greater clarity.

Now let’s get into some of the basic properties of the head and the heart. As I said, the head is used to think critically, piece out arguments, discussions, and debates, and make logical decisions. But in order to do any of these things, it first needs to be well-informed. Before insight coming from the head is able to be trusted, you need to make sure that you’re knowledgeable about whatever conflict you’re approaching. And the thing is, you really can’t just be informed on one side of things. The best way to defend your own argument is to understand the argument of the other side. So making sure you understand both sides of an issue is key to making these logical decisions. The heart, as I also said, is a bit more complex. When it comes to insight from the heart, numerous things come into play: a person’s goals and dreams, their emotions, their current mental state, instincts and “gut feelings,” just to name a few. Sometimes people don’t really know what their heart truly desires. People say “The heart wants what the heart wants,” but then don’t even really know what the heart wants. There’s a possibility that what the heart really wants isn’t what the heart has an opportunity to have at the moment, but it’s the closest thing at the given time, so it decides to settle for it. (It sounds confusing, I know.) So knowing and defining the desires of the heart is incredibly important to making intelligent decisions. However, there are times when someone has one of those “gut feelings,” where someone really doesn’t know why, but they find it necessary to make a decision based on a reason they can’t understand or explain. On so many different occasions, those gut feelings have saved peoples’ lives, businesses, families, sanity, and so many other things. There are times when logic fails and instincts, hunches, and guidance take over. Knowing when the moment comes to throw logic out the window and follow your hunches is difficult, but being able to pinpoint those moments can significantly help with decision-making.

Here’s where things get complicated: Every now and then, the head says something the heart doesn’t like. And in response, the heart says something that the head likes even less. Thus the back-and-forth arguments between the head and the heart ensue. Is it normal? Absolutely. But is it possible to fix? Absolutely. This is when separation needs to take place. This is when a person needs to take the issue being addressed, whether it’s a job offer, the decision to move forward with a relationship, whether or not to move their family across the country, any complicated decision, and approach it from both angles, but not at the same time. There comes a point where the head and the heart can’t be used together until each side’s argument has been reasoned out, which often involves taking each side’s individual points, tracing them to their source, and determining their validity. (Sometimes taking time to write things out here is the best option.) After each side has been reasoned with and understood, a logical decision is able to be made. Here’s my general rule of thumb: Facts trump feelings. If the facts that you know to be true conflict with the emotions the heart is conveying, the facts take priority. While the heart is incredible and needs to be consulted, it’s also fickle and can completely change over the course of a day. (That’s where “sleeping on it” comes into play.) However, the key word of facts trumping feelings is that they’re facts that you know to be true. If they’re just things that you are guessing or assuming, I wouldn’t involve them in the decision-making process just yet. Instead, trace things back to the source, determine their validity, and make sure you know what you’re talking about. Once you’ve gone through all of these steps and know what’s going on and where everything’s coming from, you’re generally able to make a decision. Sometimes the decision that you come to isn’t the one you’re wanting. Sometimes the facts you know to be true leave the feelings of your heart without a foundation to stand on. But there comes a point when you have to make the right decision regardless of how you really feel about it. And on the flipside, sometimes you discover your head and your heart are actually in total agreement. If that’s the case, consider yourself lucky! It’s pretty obvious what your decision is supposed to be. But at least you took the time to make sure it was the right one.

Now here’s the part of this whole thing for all my Jesus-loving friends. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, Paul writes: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” So when it comes to any gut feelings, hunches, or nudges (because we know that not all of those are just instinct), don’t quench the Spirit, but make sure to test them and ensure yourself that it is actually an insight from the Holy Spirit and not from another source. Considering a source to be from God when it actually isn’t can potentially have an unfortunate outcome, so making sure that God’s insights are actually from God is always a good thing to do. And, the most important thing about decision making when it comes to disputes between the heart and the head is this: Pray about it. No one knows the plan for your life better than the One who created all things, so asking Him for some insight is always a good plan. With patience, He’ll always have an answer. It may not be the one you’re hoping for, but hey. That’s kind of how it works when you’re not living for yourself.

I hope that this wasn’t too incredibly confusing. While I’ve been writing it, I’ve been a bit confused myself about how it all works. But one thing I know is that it does work. Taking time to assess your options and make clear, logical, and godly decisions is always better than rushing into things and ending up in a place you didn’t intend. It’s also better than just not making a decision and trying to avoid the issue. But hopefully I’ve been able to help someone out in explaining my reasoning and my approach to all this stuff. If you’re in a situation where your ideas, emotions, thoughts, et cetera are conflicting, I’d highly recommend taking some time to do some head and heart separation and approach the problem differently. I think it’ll work out to your benefit.

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