Emotional Reasoning: Feelings Aren’t Facts

By Amy Brightman, LCSW

When using Cognitive Therapy, we catch the way we think and need to check our thoughts in order to change them. In order to do this, we often have to look for cognitive thinking traps. A common trap that comes up is what we call “emotional reasoning.” This is when we use feelings to reason with our reality. In other words, we make our feelings facts.

This is particularly a trap because our feelings are often a consequence of automatic negative thoughts. So, if we use our feelings to reason with reality, we are believing something that does not have evidence. Yes, understanding our emotions and being in touch with how we feel is very important, but we also need to remember that feelings can be a reflection of our thoughts, not necessarily reality. For example, just because you feel like a fraud, doesn’t mean you actually are a fraud or just because you feel guilty, doesn't mean you’ve done something wrong. These are common ones that come up in therapy and can easily sweep us into thinking “I’m an imposter” or “I am bad.”

The problem with emotional reasoning is that it really will dictate our behavior. If we feel hopeless, then we might think it’s impossible to experience change and, therefore, never set goals or take action to make that change. This is so common and can really block us from seeing opportunity or engaging in helpful behaviors. So, when you notice your emotions are blurring together with your thoughts, for example, “I feel stupid, therefore, I am stupid,” remind yourself: “feelings aren’t facts.” Take a step back, allow time and space for skills to bring emotions down, and then look at the situation objectively. It can also be helpful to ask yourself “what would I tell a friend who was saying the same thing to me?” Emotions can be helpful in letting us know there is something going on, but not necessarily about who we are.

Amy Brightman is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb