COVID-19 Update: I'm continuing to provide therapy via secure video conference.
5 Ways to Get Out of Emotional Reasoning

We all engage in emotional reasoning, which is using our feelings as proof of something and/or allowing those feelings guide to guide our behavior. Who can’t relate to feeling something and then acting upon it?

Learn more about the basics of emotional reasoning here.

But how do we move through it?

This is the question I’d like to tackle in this article.

Understanding a bit more about emotional reasoning is particularly helpful to those with anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorders. Given the nature of these disorders, emotional reasoning can really get people stuck in a seemingly never-ending downward spiral.

We have a scary thought or uncomfortable feeling. Without realizing it, we assume the thought is real and then act to avoid, escape, or get rid of it. The problem is that the more we resist the discomfort, the worse it gets. So we go to even greater lengths to avoid, escape or get rid of it. It becomes a vicious cycle. To break the cycle, we need a different response.

The good news is that it’s not an unbreakable cycle. We can practice noticing our discomfort and reacting differently. Here are 5 ways learn to get unstuck.

5 Ways to Get Out of Emotional Reasoning

1. Gain mindful awareness of your experience.

Being able to differentiate between what you’re objectively noticing in that moment from the meaning you assign it.

For example:

Instead of “I’m feeling anxious when he leaves, so something bad may happen.”

Move to “I’m aware I’m feeling tightness in my chest and stomach when I have the thought that my son could get into a car accident”

2. Practice defusion to get distance from your thought, emotion, sensation, urge, etc.

Instead of “I’m anxious,” try “I’m aware I’m feeling anxious.”

Instead of “I had a dream my partner cheated on me, so I don’t trust what he’s telling me,” try “I’m noticing that I’m having thoughts of my partner cheating on me” or “I’m aware how unsettled I feel after having that dream.”

3. Practice not engaging with your thoughts.

You don’t have to respond to the thoughts in your head. This is a big learning curve for a lot of us, especially when we’re so used to responding. Practice reminding yourself that thoughts are thoughts, and feelings are not facts. I say this often: just because you i think it (or feel it) doesn’t make it true.

4. Align your behaviors (or reactions) with what’s important to you (or what you want to strengthen).

You have a choice. To continue the cheating dream example, you can choose to react with mistrust and scrutiny, or you can choose to accept feeling unsettled while trusting his actions. You can feel one way while you act another.

5. Stick with data.

What you know to be true versus what you feel is true? Sometimes it’s helpful to make 2 columns and list out both. Getting it out of your head is often exactly what you need to see reality. 

If you feel stuck in your anxiety or OCD, please get help. 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.