People who say “I feel”

I agree with Geoff Nunberg, the “I feel” clause is not the end of rational discourse, but what he doesn’t say is what bugs me….it’s just inaccurate.  To say “I feel like taxes are too high” is not correct, that’s not a feeling, it’s an opinion, a thought.  It’s like saying “I know in my heart…” no, you don’t know in your heart, it’s a muscle that pumps blood and doesn’t know anything. Yes, we all understand the meaning of an “I feel” sentence anyway, but to say “I think” is more accurate.  

In psychotherapy, I work with people to be more aware of the difference, not in order to be better grammarians, but because people often are not aware of how they feel.  They know what they think, and confuse thoughts and feelings as though they were the same.  Feelings are harder to articulate, but it’s often beneficial to put the effort into figuring out how to do so, so that we really do know how we feel.  I may “think” taxes are too high, because I “feel” insecure about my finances and afraid that I may not be able to support my family in the future.  

While Geoff argues people use it as a qualifier no different than others we use to indicate an opinion, I do think he lets people off the hook a little too quickly.  People don’t use “I feel” to shut down rational discussion, but they do use it as a way to avoid confrontation.  It sounds softer and less confident than “I think,” which helps people to express themselves with less fear of offending others.  In general I don’t have a problem about this, I think being more humble and less strident is in general a pro-social behavior, but we should be mindful of these subconscious expressions.  Sometimes people won’t take us as seriously because we soften our opinions with “I feel.”  If you want to sound more confident in yourself, use “I think.”  It’s also probably more accurate, anyway. :)