Emotional Reasoning- The Cognitive Distortion that Makes You Emotionally Reactive – Anxiety 18/30

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In this post, you’ll learn about emotional reasoning. I’m going to teach you an important skill to be less emotionally reactive. 

This last year, we needed to buy a house, we were living in 1500sf with 6 people and working from home and it was just too loud and tight. So we looked at homes for over a year, carefully saved up and considered our budget, and finally found a home that was great for us. So we put in an offer. But, the market was really high, mortgage rates were high, and even though we knew we could afford it, after we went under contract, I felt so scared I was almost sick to my stomach with anxiety. And it would have been very easy for me to think “This anxiety means we’ve made the wrong choice. This anxiety is a sign that we shouldn’t move forward. If I feel this way, it must mean that I need to back out of the contract.” But I knew this would happen before we went under contract. Before we submitted our offer I told my realtor, you need to text me every day until we close a text saying “this is an investment, not just an expenditure” because I hate spending money on myself.  And, because I know myself, I know that I am going to feel emotions very deeply and sometimes I feel anxiety and it means nothing, sometimes I feel panicky and it means nothing, sometimes I worry about a ton of stuff and it means nothing.

But, if I were using emotional reasoning I would have said because I feel anxious this is a sign that we made the wrong decision. And probably would have backed out of the contract and then we wouldn’t have gotten a new house- which by the way, we did buy, and it has been wonderful. 

Emotions lie to you all the time. But they feel so real. They are very powerful motivators, but they aren’t always accurate.

In this post, you’ll learn how to be less emotionally reactive by learning to combat emotional reasoning. You’ll learn 4 ways to slow yourself down in an intense moment and 3 steps to combating emotional reasoning. We’ll also talk for a minute about the difference between emotions and intuition.

OK, so what is emotional reasoning?

Emotional reasoning is a cognitive distortion where you believe that something is true simply because it feels true. You use emotions as your evidence, instead of logic or, you know, evidence. 

Emotional Reasoning sounds like this:

  • “If I’m mad, it means someone did something hurtful” 
  • “I feel anxious, so this must be dangerous/bad, so I must avoid it.”
  • “If I feel disappointed, the restaurant did a bad job, it’s someone else’s fault” 
  • “I feel lucky- so I’m going to gamble because I’ll probably win.” 
  • “I feel uncertain in this social setting, so I’m probably an awkward person.”
  • I feel depressed, so my life must be pointless.”
  • “It feels good, so it must be OK to do.” 
  • “If I feel resentful, it’s because the other person isn’t taking care of me.” 
  • “If I feel offended, then they must have been offensive.”
  • If I feel anxious about this relationship, it’s a sign that we should break up.”

I see this all the time in the comments section, if you feel anxious about whether the relationship is going to work out- it’s a sign, break up. (hate to break it to you, but there’s a difference between anxiety because you’re in danger, and anxiety because you’re afraid of heartbreak. You have to take risks if you want to find love.)

Emotions are big loud chemical releases in your brain and body that are fast, and imprecise. If I hear a rattling in the rocks near my feet, I’m going to jump first and check to see if it’s a rattlesnake later. Emotions are like a smoke alarm, it’s better if they’re loud and too reactive, just in case there’s a fire, than being quiet and slow. They serve a function- to keep us alive. 

  • Even though emotions are so strong, so personal, and they feel so real, Emotions are frequently inaccurate
  • Emotions impact our attention- they make us pay more attention to similar things, so if I’m feeling sad, I’ll pay more attention to sad things, if I’m anxious I’ll pay more attention to frightening news stories, 
  • This makes it hard to tell the difference between feelings and reality

But when we fuse a feeling with a belief. If I feel it, it means something, that’s emotional reasoning and it often leads to poor decisions. 

In DBT they describe the different parts of us as Emotional mind, rational mind- which is logical but can sometimes be too cold, rigid or serious and Wise Mind- the part of yourself that considers all the factors and makes a good and balanced decision.

OK, so emotions are often inaccurate, they are big and loud. But what about intuition? What about our gut feeling? Should we just ignore that? I think we all have a deep wisdom, gained by experience, that often shows up as intuition, we can’t quite explain a reason, or logic behind a decision, but we have a deep sense that something is wrong, (or something else is right). While your intuition comes from subconscious knowledge, Intuition is different from feelings, and here’s how I’d describe the difference. Intuition comes with a quiet sense of confidence, a discerning between light and darkness, and a drive toward action. On the other hand, emotions are rash, loud, sloppy, impulsive. Intuition may urge you to move quickly, but it’s with certainty and skill instead of flustering and brashness. So even if I’m in danger and I feel a little twinge of fear, intuition is going to lead me to take decisive action to escape that danger whereas an emotion like anxiety might make me shaky, confused, or impulsive. I do think it takes retrospection, experience and careful considering to learn to tell the difference. 

So,If you want to be less emotionally reactive, you’ve got to slow things down.

  1. Slow it down. Between stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space lies our freedom. So when you feel a big feeling coming on, do everything you can to pause. Shut your mouth. Hold still for a second. Take a breath. Or five. Count to ten before saying something etc. Never make a big decision when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

And I get it, this is harder than it sounds but these are skills you can develop with practice. 

  1. Opposite action– if you feel like yelling, talk very softly. If you feel like avoiding something- stay where you are or approach it. Do the opposite action Instead of acting on your emotional reasoning, do the opposite. For instance, if you feel afraid, don’t avoid the thing that scares you – approach it instead. Taking opposite action is one of the best ways to change your thoughts and feelings. • “Everything feels so pointless – I want to stay in bed…” • “…I’m going to take the opposite action and get on with my day anyway.”
  2. The third thing is to get good at predicting your emotional triggers. Explore your triggers so that you can make a plan for how to handle them. First responders manage big stressful events by training, practicing, and having acronyms, checklists to go through during a stressful time. You can do the same thing. 
  3. And if you do have a blow up or get emotionally reactive, take the time to analyze that experience, write down what happened and then write down how you would handle it differently next time. This lays down neural pathways that can help you respond differently the next time. 

So slowing things down can help you be less emotionally reactive, now let’s talk about the antidote to Emotional Reasoning? Emotion Processing

One of the most powerful ways to combat emotional reasoning is to just start noticing yourself doing it. 

O-observe. Notice our feelings without believing them or resisting them

W-willingness.  Here’s your mantra , “Just because you feel it, it doesn’t mean it’s true”

E-explore alternatives, logic, ask “what other evidence is there?” Are there any alternative ways to see the situation? Any facts that dispute my beliefs? • “I feel like something bad is going to happen…” • “…The reality is I am in a safe place with people who love me. I’m not in danger.”

C-choose, clarify

A-act based on our values. Make a choice based on what is most important to you instead of rashly acting on your emotions. 

When it comes to anxiety, people with anxiety often believe that if they feel anxious, it means that whatever is making them anxious is bad or dangerous and that they need to avoid it. All that stuff is fused. To be less reactive, you have to be able to say “I feel anxious” but this feeling doesn’t necessarily mean something. So we observe anxiety (“I notice I’m feeling anxious about buying this house. Is this a sign that I shouldn’t do it? Let’s explore the facts- can we afford it? Yes, is there any reason to believe that if I wait the markets will improve? (not really) In the long run, what’s best for my family (this is what I value) probably buying the house. It’s normal to feel some anxiety when making big decisions. I will choose to move forward, even with this feeling. 

Anger is another hot and fast emotion that shoots first and asks questions later. When we feel angry, it’s easy to believe that we’re being attacked, maligned, mistreated. We use anger as the reasoning for why we need to act out. 

Sometimes anger falsely convinces us that it’s someone else’s fault, and we have no responsibility in the situation. 

Here’s an example: 

Alex: “I feel so angry every time I think about my co-worker Sarah getting the promotion instead of me. It just proves she’s manipulative and that the bosses favor her over me!”

Jordan: “Have you considered that maybe she was promoted based on her qualifications or accomplishments? It doesn’t necessarily mean she’s manipulative or that the bosses favor her.”

Alex: “No, I just know it. I feel so angry and betrayed when I think about it, so there must be something unfair going on. My feelings wouldn’t lie.”

In this example, Alex is using emotional reasoning by assuming that because they feel anger and betrayal, it means there’s an inherent unfairness or manipulation involved in Sarah’s promotion. They are letting their emotions dictate their perception of reality, rather than evaluating the situation objectively.

So first- Notice Alex could say “I feel really angry right now. I’m upset that I didn’t get the promotion. I’m noticing that I’m thinking that it’s unfair, and I’m having thoughts like “Sarah is manipulative” 

Second- Explore- are these beliefs true? Is there any other evidence out there? Hmm, well, I have been showing up late to work a lot lately, and I didn’t finish that last project on time, maybe she was promoted because she did finish her project on time. 

Third- What would be helpful? What actions do I value- well, I’d like to get promoted, so maybe I could talk with the boss about what I could do to perform better, and I can put more effort into being on time. 

Also, if I really do believe the boss is unfair, acting rashly or being really angry probably won’t make me happier. Maybe I need to get some new skills so that I can get a different job. 

So in this situation, emotional reasoning made Alex feel helpless and angry, but when they really processed their emotions, they got some ideas of helpful actions they could take. 

If we want to have the freedom to live the life we value, if we want to be intentional and have the power to choose our path of happiness, we need to be able to incorporate these different  sources of information- our emotions, our logic, and our experience. And then slow ourselves down enough to see things clearly. Then when we know what we really care about, we can make choices to line our life up with our values.  This is emotional intelligence, the flexibility to separate our choices from our thoughts and feelings. 

If you want to learn more about the course, How to Break the Anxiety Cycle in 30 Days, click on the link below. 

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