Emotional Reasoning: When Emotions Cloud Thinking

Emotional reasoning is a cognitive process by which we shape an idea or belief based on how we feel. It is possibly the most common form of self-sabotage, the one in which if I feel sad it is because only misfortunes happen to me, the one in which if I feel jealous it is because my partner has the secret intention of being unfaithful at the least expected moment.

Reasoning based on how we feel is something we have all done many more times than we might believe. It is a trap, a trick of our brain, which, at certain times, has some difficulty in correctly interpreting and managing our own emotions. At the same time, the observed evidence will not matter either, because every objective and rational fact is deliberately ignored or discarded in favor of the “truth” assumed by one’s own feelings.

“If our thinking gets bogged down by distorted symbolic meanings, illogical reasoning, and misinterpretations, we become, indeed, blind and deaf”

-TO. Beck-

Thus, it will not matter at all, for example, to know that our work and our home are not the same thing. Because sometimes, when we come home stressed, exhausted, and angry and our partner makes an inappropriate comment, we end up pouring our negative emotions on him or her because ultimately “everyone is looking for the same thing”: exasperate us, make us unhappy.

We could undoubtedly give many more examples, some of them bordering on the most absurd irrationality. Like someone who gets on the most challenging ride and suddenly has the firm conviction that he is going to die. So, with the firm and desperate idea of ​​fleeing from that risk that in his opinion is real and imminent, he decides to unfasten the security mechanisms, thus putting his life in real danger.

Emotional reasoning leads us into a perfect storm, into an absolute chaos of distorted thoughts where we are rarely unscathed …

Emotional reasoning, a very primitive mechanism

We could bring here Paul MacLean’s always interesting theory of  the triune brain. We could talk about that second brain, the limbic, which was formed on the basis of the reptilian brain and that controls and shapes our emotional behavior. It is he who for many regulates processes as basic as classical conditioning or operant conditioning, and it is he who makes us act in a somewhat logical and even irrational way.

However, it should be noted that for neuroscience this model is not solid, because our brain is in reality a unique, interconnected and sophisticated structure where no specific area suddenly assumes exclusive control over us.

However, what is undeniable is that the vast majority of the time we do allow emotions to reason for us, falling into that primitive trap where the force of a feeling gives shape to a conviction that has nothing to do with reality.

On one side is our capacity for analysis, reflection, induction and that principle of logic so necessary to establish solid relationships and function effectively in a given situation. Likewise, it should be noted that emotional reasoning is one of the cornerstones in cognitive therapy founded by Aaron Beck in the 70s. His theories and approaches are very useful to us to better understand this type of unhealthy mechanism.

Let’s see them below.

Aaron Beck: your emotions and the reality around you are not the same thing

Sometimes, when walking at dawn through a forest or on the top of a mountain, we can suddenly see how a thick tongue of smoke embraces us. However, that smoke is not the result of a fire, nothing is burning. It’s just fog. The simple fact of fostering in our mind that subtle balance between reason and emotion will undoubtedly allow us to draw much more useful and accurate conclusions in our day to day life.

However, whoever is carried away by the impulse of emotion  will be kidnapped by that fear that tarnishes and deforms everything. We will see fires where there are only calm grasslands . Likewise, this phenomenon shapes what Aaron Beck defined at the time as a type of sabotage on the part of our mind, a type of cognitive distortion where we let ourselves be carried away exclusively by the most adverse pole of our negative emotions.

Most of us don’t pay much attention to how we feel, nor do we wonder where our reactions are coming from. Almost without realizing it, we allow automatic thoughts to take full control of our lives.

  • Another curious phenomenon that occurs in emotional reasoning is procrastination. If there is something that bothers me or worries me or there is something that I think I am going to fail, instead of facing it I put it off. This continuous delay in decision-making is also governed by that purely emotional and instinctive world that seeks to avoid risks at all costs, plunging us into our comfort zone.
  • Sometimes procrastination has to be added  an excessive generalization based on an anecdotal or very specific fact. For example, “if the person I like has rejected me, it is clear that this love thing is not for me …”.
  • Finally, and as an especially common characteristic in those people accustomed to reasoning based on their emotions, is the fact of  judging the behaviors or emotional states of others based on how they feel at the same moment.

As we can see, people generate authentic fumes from non-existent fires that completely reduce our quality of life, our personal relationships and our personal growth …

How can we combat emotional reasoning?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, based on the approaches of Aaron Beck himself, is a good approach to try to weaken this type of cognitive distortion. Here are some basic strategies to think about:

  • Identify your automatic thoughts. For this, it is necessary to remember that our thoughts directly influence what we feel, so we must be able to identify them on the one hand and evaluate them on the other.
  • When emotional reasoning rules, feelings are mistaken for facts. Emotional reasoning makes stress worse, depression deeper, and anxiety more hurtful. It is therefore vital that every time we experience a negative emotion we stop to reflect on it, analyze it, channel it, break it down. ..
  • Every time you make a judgment, no matter how small, inquire into the emotion behind it and the mechanism that has led you to form that idea, that assessment.
  • Ask yourself if you are able to think about the current situation in a different way. For example, if you tell yourself that you are naive for having trusted someone who failed you, instead of concluding with the idea that “nobody is to be trusted”, think that “you are not naive, because today you have already learned the lesson and surely you will not fall into the same mistake again ”.

In conclusion, we know that e main problem l emotional reasoning is that once we allow our emotions trasformen in assumed truths, it is very difficult to raise the anchor of these islands inhabited by the torment. However, it is necessary to take control of our emotional universes.

“If we are what we think, then let those thoughts allow us to be free, happy and competent”

Bibliographic references

Beek, A. (1985), Cognitive therapy of depression. Paidos

Blanchette, I. (2013), Emotion and reasoning. Psychology Press

Damasio, A. (2010), Descartes’ error, emotion and reason. Review

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