Emotional Reasoning: Cognitive Distortion 11
In emotional reasoning, we believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid and boring, then we must be stupid and boring. You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect the way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
Here’s a story to illustrate Emotional Reasoning.
Once upon a time, there was a woman named Sophia. She lived in the shadow of everyone around her. Sophia reasoned she would only fit in if she conformed her personality to those around her. If people wanted a quiet wallflower, Sophia was their person. She was meek and obedient and proud of how accommodating she could be.
Sophia’s partner, Mike, was the complete opposite of her. He was loud and boisterous and loved getting his way. Their marriage worked well because Sophia always deferred to her husband and he always had his mind made up.
Unfortunately, they were both the victim of emotional reasoning.
Sophia reasoned that her feelings about herself were always true. When she felt boring she was boring. When she felt useless, she was useless. Mike reasoned that if he didn’t take control, no one would. He also reasoned that he knew best about his own life, so he should make the decisions. Mike reasoned that no one else should decide.
Mike and Sophia’s marriage carried on with this imbalance of power for many years, through children, job changes and life crises. Eventually, Sophia realized that Mike wasn’t always right. She came to learn that just because he thought something or she felt something, didn’t make it true. Sophia realized she could have an opinion and that not all of her thoughts were worth believing.
Mike realized he could be wrong from time to time, and his wife of many years had a lot of wisdom. He started to see the emotional toll that his controlling nature had taken on Sophia’s confidence. He hadn’t allowed her the freedom of choice along the way.
Through time and listening to each other, Mike and Sophia found a new balance of power.
Sophia let Mike take the lead in the family, and Mike let Sophia take the lead in her own life. He encouraged her to state her preferences and listened to her work out her opinion. They didn’t always get things right, but together they trusted each other with their own best interests.
Depression and anxiety can work funny tricks on the brain with emotional reasoning.
Depression tells you everything is bad and nothing is worth doing. You’ll never feel better again. Anxiety tells you that things won’t work out. Catastrophe is waiting to strike at any moment and you need to be on guard at all times. Hypervigilance is the only answer to anxiety. Hopelessness is the only answer to depression.
With emotional reasoning, we must be careful not to believe everything we think. To depression, we say, not every day is bad. Not all bad things last forever. To anxiety we say, crisis, true crisis only happens rarely, not every day. To live on constant edge of what might happen robs your current joy.
When self-esteem is deeply tied to emotional reasoning, we live dangerously in the control of others.
We scan other people in the room to read their emotions and make decisions about ourselves based on what we infer. The problem is we can be wrong. Someone looks mad, but it might not be towards us. Someone ignored us, but it might not be personal. When we base our self-esteem on the emotional reasoning of the mood of people around us, we give others power they don’t need or deserve. When we base our self-esteem on external circumstances, we needlessly give our power away.
To get over emotional reasoning is possible, but incredibly difficult.
It involves vigilance and short-circuiting old thought patterns. Recognizing emotional reasoning is the first step. Thoughts such as, I’m lame or I’m dumb. Stopping the thought comes next. Tell thought, thanks for your OPINION, but I’m going to keep believing the best of myself and others. Recovering from long-held thought patterns takes work, but eventually, you can figure out a system of shutting down those negative systems.