How certain thought patterns can lead to depression and anxiety: Emotional Reasoning

Even though we may think we have an accurate and realistic perception of the world, the people around us, and ourselves, we can fall into certain traps in thinking called cognitive distortions which are incorrect and unrealistic ways of thinking about the world. Because thoughts have such a huge sway on our mood and emotions, we need to be mindful of how we think. One such thought pattern is called ‘emotional reasoning’ which can lead to anxiety, stress, and panic.

What is ‘emotional reasoning’ and how can it lead to negative emotions such as anxiety, stress, and depression?
Emotional reasoning is a cognitive distortion where someone feels something so strongly that they assume these emotions must indicate something that is factually true. However, this is a trap of making one think that feelings are facts.

Emotional reasoning also refers to the acceptance of one’s own emotions as a fact: “I feel it, therefore it is true.” However, just because we feel something does not mean it is true. When overcome by this type of faulty thinking we are interpreting our situation through our feelings without examining more in detail any facts or evidence contrary to what you are feeling.

Examples of emotional reasoning:
These are some examples of emotional reasoning and how it can be detrimental to our sense of self-worth or well-being, or to our relationships.

“I feel guilty, and therefore I am guilty.”
“I feel ugly, and therefore I am ugly.”
“I feel anxious, and therefore I am in danger.”
“I feel worthless, and therefore I am worthless.”
“I feel lonely, and therefore nobody cares about me.”

Michelle for example feels ‘worthless’ and like a failure because she didn’t get a promotion and a raise at her job. However, many people who have been at the company longer than her also did not get a promotion because of budget issues. Despite evidence pointing to the contrary, Michelle lets her emotions guide the way she thinks about herself.

We all struggle with emotional reasoning at one point or another. This can also be directed at others around us.

Let’s take Daniel, for example. He is happily married with his wife but he gets angry whenever his wife asks him to do any neutral task such as going to the grocery store or picking up their kid from school. He doesn’t know why he
becomes so angry but he does. he thinks his wife was wrong for making him feel angry. However, the truth of the matter is that Daniel gets triggered by his past experiences where he was chastised extremely harshly by his parents when he didn’t do what he was told right away.

Emotional reasoning is dangerous because we take emotions as fact rather than looking at the bigger picture. Is Michelle truly a worthless failure like she feels? Did Daniel’s wife truly do something to hurt him just because he feels anger? No, it is neither of these things – they are simply falling into the trap of emotional reasoning. However, if they do not examine their emotions and instead act upon their emotions, they are jeopardizing their well-being.

If Michelle continues to let her thoughts downward spiral in feelings of worthlessness, she may start to feel depressed and hopeless. She may also feel resentful towards her boss and may not put in any effort at work. She may start comparing herself to her colleagues and feel antagonistic towards them.

If Daniel continues to let his thoughts spiral downward and let his anger get the best of him, this will undermine and damage the relationship t with his wife. This may lead to further fracturing of the relationship and eventually divorce. It’s very important to examine strong or recurring negative emotions and the conclusions we draw from them.

How to break out of emotional reasoning:
Overcoming emotional reasoning can be difficult, especially if we feel something so deeply. This doesn’t mean we should ignore our emotions but there are ways to just make sure that our emotions are not (getting the best of us) with the following tactics:
– Ask yourself this question: “what are the facts and evidence that support this conclusion that comes from my emotions?” This may help you realize that you really don’t have much evidence that justifies your conclusion except for your emotions.

– Look for evidence that contradicts your assumption: When you are feeling overwhelmed by emotions and come up with a negative conclusion about yourself or those around you, try and think of evidence that actually contradicts this assumption. It may be helpful to write down in a journal these thoughts stemming from emotions and then think about facts that contradict your negative conclusion. For example, let’s say you feel extremely lonely because your friends are hanging out without you, so you come up with a conclusion that your friends no longer care about you. Is this really the case? Are there any other reasons why they are hanging out without you? Maybe it was just one instance because it happened spontaneously? Keeping a journal can also be helpful because you can keep track of negative thoughts and when you were proven wrong.

– Try techniques to help you ‘calm down’ so that emotions do not get the best of you. Such techniques include going for a walk in nature, going for a run or exercising, journaling, talking to someone you trust and is judgment
free, reading a good book, meditation, or simply just counting to ten. While we cannot always help how we feel, we can certainly control how we act upon them. And we certainly do not want to act upon emotions if we are not confident that they are based on fact.

Emotional reasoning and how it can sabotage our relationship with God:
We are susceptible to emotional reasoning and it can sabotage our relationship with God, especially during difficult times:

“I don’t feel the closeness of God, so He must not really be with me.”
“I feel disappointed in God, so He mustn’t be that good, I must stop believing in Him.”

Using emotions as a gauge for truth is very dangerous. Feelings are not facts. However, many times we trust feelings and intuitions to judge a situation and if we use emotional reasoning without an understanding about God or how God sees us, this is like standing on a boogie board in the sea.

John 8:32
Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

Notice the verse says “know the truth.” The truth is to be known by my thoughts and not determined by my feelings. The Bible says to “know” the truth – not “feel” the truth. Don’t get me wrong – feelings are important. We are human beings and emotions are natural and are not meant to be ignored. But the habit of reasoning based on emotions has a high chance of being inaccurate – a cognitive distortion. This can result in further damage in a relationship with others and in a relationship with God.

It may lead to us thinking things like “I don’t feel God’s presence. I don’t feel like God loves me. Maybe it means God doesn’t exist or He doesn’t love me.” There are so many other distorted spiritual beliefs that come from emotional reasoning and they are not aligned with what the Bible says.

Those suffering from anxiety and depression may have sought help but the healing process is taking awhile. This may lead to thoughts like “I still feel so anxious and depressed. Perhaps God does not want me to get healed. Maybe I disappointed Him and don’t deserve to be healed.” This spiraling effect of our mind can truly drown our spirits into a state of despair.

1st Peter 5:8
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

This enemy, Satan, uses external things and situations to attack us. The main tactic he knows that is consistently effective is to use our minds and hearts against us. This verse 1st Peter 5:8 says “be alert and of sober mind.” This can only come from knowing the truth of what the Bible says – that we are children of God and that He has a plan for us – and making sure that we rely on scripture and our faith in God. This helps us to question when negative emotions and thoughts from Satan start to plague us and to turn to God when we feel as though we are on shaky ground.

We hope that this post helps you with some tools to combat emotional reasoning.

We are licensed psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and psychotherapists that believe in integrating the Gospel message into mental health treatment and counseling, as well as reducing the stigma and prevalence of mental health disorders. Contact us now to learn more about treatments, or to receive a brief consultation about the need for treatment.

Found this post useful? Please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation at OHF, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources for holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

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