The Basics of Emotional Reasoning

Have you ever felt so sure that something bad, something horrific was about to happen? Your heart pounds and palms sweat. It must be true, because you feel it. Right?

Weellllll … not so fast. I’m sure you can also think of times when you felt one way and reality went another way. Thoughts and emotions can be quite confusing, especially for those with anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Helping us make more sense of them is much of what I do as a therapist.

What is Emotional Reasoning?

The act of using your feelings as evidence (or proof) of something and/or letting those feelings guide your behavior is called emotional reasoning.

Before we go any further, please know that everyone engages in emotional reasoning. Everyone. Have you ever woken up with a racing heart and assumed the day would suck? What about feeling like “they’re the one,” when on a first date? It’s not right or wrong. (You know how I don’t want us judging our feelings.) It’s just part of being human.

If you’ve struggled with emotional reasoning, understanding what it is can help you practice awareness when it happens. What traps us is the intensity of the feelings. They feel so real that it’s hard to believe the situation may not be real (or as we’ve imagined). That intensity then guides the behavior.

For example, the anxious mom who feels so strongly that something bad will happen when her son leaves for school that she texts him every 5 minutes looking to make sure he’s okay. Or the person whose jealousy feelings are so intense that he’s unable to maintain close relationships.

To help us respond differently, let’s dive a little deeper.

Thoughts Aren’t Facts

Emotional reasoning goes hand-in-hand with believing your thoughts are facts. What we think or what we feel isn’t always a sign of reality. We want to ask ourselves, is there evidence to support my feeling? Am I making a decision based on fear? Am I trying to avoid an uncomfortable feeling?

When people are scared of something, their gut often “feels off” because of the fight, flight or freeze response. When your body releases cortisol and adrenaline, it responds with different physical sensations: racing heart, sweating, brain fog, stomach distress, feeling like you’re out of your body, tingling in your extremities, etc.

But here’s the thing. Your feelings are not always “signs” of anything other than your body (specifically, your amygdala) firing.

If you’re someone who’s prone to stomach tightness, you may misinterpret a normal physiological response as proof of something. “Something’s wrong!” When you respond with actions designed to alleviate that uncomfortable feeling, it increases — and the cycle continues. The more anxious someone gets, the more fused they become with their thoughts and feelings.

For anyone who’s stuck, detaching from our thoughts and feelings is the path to getting unstuck.

What about Manifestation?

Something that often trips people up is the desire to trust their intuition. In the age of manifestation and Law of Attraction, this idea can be very confusing. For people with anxiety disorders, excessive worry or OCD, it can be hard to know when we’re emotional reasoning verses trusting our gut. That’s when a therapist can really help.

Ultimately, working with a licensed therapist is the key to learning how and when to disengage when thoughts and feelings trigger the cycle. If you live in Ohio, please reach out. If you’re out of state, check out the IOCDF or ADAA websites for providers in your area.