Our minds see patterns and create meaning automatically as we navigate the world. We draw on a vast network of memories, images, and associations as we sift through experiences and appraise our environment to form meaningful impressions. In addition to patterns of memories and experiences, our emotional states heavily influence how our mind makes meaning of any given situation.
At times, emotional states can take a driver’s seat and become fused with our cognitive appraisals, making it difficult to differentiate between how we feel and the facts on the ground. Emotional reasoning is a term used to describe this experience. Examples of emotional reasoning include, “I feel inadequate, so my performance at work must be poor,” “I feel guilty, so I must have behaved badly,” or “I feel worthless, so I must not be a good friend.”
It is useful to practice differentiating between how we feel and what we think as we appraise and make sense out of our experiences. Going into a big presentation and feeling anxious may cause us to experience doubt and think, “I’m horrible at giving presentations,” when in fact, we may just be experiencing fear related to a genuine desire to do a good job. Perhaps we also forget the past times when we gave successful presentations. It is useful to ask yourself if you are focusing on a fact or a feeling.
It is also useful to practice observing and labeling our emotions. Most of us did not receive a thorough education around emotions or learn a rich vocabulary to describe feeling states. How do you feel right now? How many feeling words come to mind?
Think of yourself as an ornithologist walking through a vast and complex forest searching for rare species of birds. At times, you must be very still to listen for movements and sounds. You need to look closely and be patient. Once you find a bird, you must examine it and compare it to other known birds so that you can identify if it is a known species or a new discovery.
In a similar way, we must slow down and patiently look into our inner world to identify and label our emotional experiences. We all have a vast array of emotional tones beyond our core emotions. As we learn to find and identify our subtler emotional states and discriminate between our feelings, we can more fully experience ourselves and react in healthier ways. We are also more likely to better understand why we may feel certain ways and differentiate between a feeling state and a negative thought pattern or habitual way of appraising of our environment.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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