Emotional Reasoning

Emotional Reasoning –  assuming that negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things are , “I feel, therefore it must be true” or “Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

In this situation it is not rational thought but emotions that will lead to you determining a given course of action. That’s when you call the fire brigade, run from the house, or grab the hose.

The fact is , that until you check where the smoke comes from, there’s no evidence pointing to an actual fire.  A piece of toast could be browning in the oven as old oil consumes  it.

Emotional reasoning is a thinking style  classified as cognitive distortion, and far too often is an automatic thought, something our mind produces based on past learning and experiences – generally upsetting ones .

Because the expectation is for a repeat of a past situation, current facts are not checked.

A type of emotional reasoning which occurs very often in close relationships stems from  the assumption that your partner may be doing something to be deliberately hurtful to you (see “mind reading” blog).

The emotional reasoning becomes “ she/he is refusing to go out with me tonight. It is so important to me, she/he is doing  it on purpose.  I hurt; I’ll retaliate and punish; I won’t talk to her/him and will ignore her/him today; or I’ll sulk, and  I’ll invite someone else out; or cancel the evening altogether to show her/him how much I hurt”.

“She/He did it on purpose” is mind reading. “I hurt, therefore she/he did it on purpose” is emotional reasoning.  Lastly,  “I’m retaliating by sulking, etc…” is the action deriving from emotional reasoning.

The thought hurts you, the action following hurts both you and your partner.

The best way to handle it is step by step, from the example above:

First recognize that what she/he says hurts.

Stop there. Ask yourself “why does it hurt?”. Track your thought.

Aha. The thought was “She/He doesn’t care about how important that outing is to me”.

Backtrack. Tell the partner “I’d like you to come, it is very important to me, is there any reason you can’t come”

You’ve expressed yourself. Wait for her/his  answer.

Then, decide what to think and feel, and what to do.

You may try to apply the following process as events and emotions occur:

1. describe the situation

2. describe your thoughts about it

3. describe the feelings arising as a result

4. describe what action you took (e.g., get out angrily, slam the door, etc.)

5. go back to step 2.  Assume that there was another interpretation to the situation. In light of this new interpretation, imagine what feelings and resulting actions would be as in steps 3 and 4.

Author: Pascale Aline

Psychotherapist & Performance Coach, I specialize working with tools for self enhancement, growth, productivity and healing (Biofeedback, EMDR, Mindfulness training)

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