‘I Feel it, Therefore it Must be True’

Emotional reasoning is one of the most deleterious examples of putting the cart before the horse there are. It is a cognitive distortion which involves adapting one’s cognitive state or thoughts to one’s visceral emotional state, rather than the other way around. For example, one may begin to experience anxiety when walking down a street, and might conclude, on the basis of his anxiety, that the street must be unsafe, even though there might not be any concrete evidence that the individual is in danger. 

Changing your thinking habits

In addition to influencing one’s thoughts, one’s emotions may also reflect the state of one’s thoughts. For example, if you feel hopeless about changing a bad habit, and conclude, based on this feeling, that the battle is a hopeless one, it is possible that your beliefs are distorted and false to begin with. In order to change your emotional habits, you must change your thinking habits.

First, identify and articulate the patterns of emotional reasoning that are determining your thought patterns. Although you may feel viscerally anxious, attempt to objectively gauge the likelihood that what your fears will actually come to pass, or whether it accurately reflects reality. Next, examine the sorts of cognitive distortions you may be using to allow the emotional reasoning to go unchecked. 

For example, the depressed individual may engage in “catastrophizing,” which involves interpreting an unfortunate set of circumstances in the worst possible manner. Suppose a call center sales specialist has not made a sale in a long time. He may conclude that he is therefore a total, irredeemable failure at his job. This particular example of catastrophizing is also known as personalizing. Such an individual may not have considered other less catastrophic or personal explanations. Perhaps he has had the misfortune of having several difficult customers in a row. Perhaps a lapse in the economy has been causing potential customers to become more frugal. Indeed, a number of other explanations are possible. 

Challenge your emotions

The depressed individual is encouraged to use his thoughts to challenge his emotions. Let the former demand evidence of the latter. If you find, as is often the case, that emotions are pleading their case based on flimsy evidence, this discovery may help to relieve the burden of depression, and allow you to draw more accurate, and more positive, conclusions about your competence and worth.