Have you ever felt like walking outside would be dangerous so you decide to stay in? Or, have you ever thought that a friend who hasn’t texted you has suddenly stopped liking you, when in reality they were just in a no-phones work meeting all day? Imagined thoughts can very often feel real, especially when they’re recurring, but experts say it’s important to distinguish between what your head is telling you and what’s reality. The term for this is emotional reasoning, and it can have harmful effects on your daily life if you don’t learn how to recognize the signs. “Our thoughts and emotions are powerful,” says Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, psychologist and the Hope for Depression Research Foundation’s media advisor. “They can cause us to engage in behaviors that we may later regret.”
Below, Dr. Lira de la Rosa shares examples of emotional reasoning and how to overcome it.
Emotional Reasoning's Meaning
According to Dr. Lira de la Rosa, “Emotional reasoning is a type of cognitive distortion or thinking error where we assume that if we feel something, then that feeling must be true.” However, many people engage in this type of behavior every now and then. Think of your friend who believes her long-term partner is going to change when you can see the relationship is only getting worse. Or think of your mom who refuses to go to the grocery stores on certain days because she feels it will be too crowded. This type of emotional reasoning isn’t necessarily harmful if it’s a one-off.
The trick is not to let negative imagined emotions overtake your entire life. Working with a therapist can help you tackle this issue if it’s causing you to lose relationships and impacting your life, and Dr. Lira de la Rosa has some helpful tools that can help below.
Examples Of Emotional Reasoning
First, it’s helpful to learn about examples of emotional reasoning so you can learn to recognize when it happens. An example of emotional reasoning in a relationship might be feeling jealousy and therefore assuming things about a partner that might not be accurate. “We may even begin to think that our partners are being unfaithful despite not having any proof or evidence,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa, who notes it can quickly lead to a downward spiral of thinking. “We may find ourselves thinking about the reasons they do not love us and begin to feel worthless,” he says.
Another example could be feeling anxious or worried that something bad is about to happen without any proof or tangible reason. When this type of emotional reasoning occurs, you’re “interpreting our anxiety and worry as factual truth and making incorrect assumptions,” he says.
How To Overcome Emotional Reasoning
In many cases, managing emotional reasoning can be done with the help of a trained therapist. “We can take a step back from our emotions if we learn to tolerate them and let them run their course,” Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.
One of the main things a therapist can help with is teaching you how to acknowledge your feelings as they come up and work through them instead of letting them take over your day. “It is important to check for facts and observable truths to challenge these emotions,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa.
Another thing he suggests to patients is learning to pay attention to their thoughts on a daily basis. “If we can observe our thoughts more closely, we may be in a better position to examine them when we are feeling emotional,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa. “It’s also important to tell yourself that what you are feeling is normal and valid. It is OK to feel anxious, jealous, guilty, worthless, etc.” Rember that it’s not unusual to have these feelings every once in a while. And as Dr. Lira de la Rosa advises, “Remind yourself that it is an emotion and that it does not have to define your reality.”
Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, psychologist and the Hope for Depression Research Foundation’s media advisor