Everything You Need to Know About Emotional Reasoning: How Therapy Can Help
Emotions are an integral part of the human experience, influencing our thoughts, behaviors, and decision-making processes. But have you ever considered the role of emotional reasoning in your life? Emotional reasoning is a cognitive process where emotions, rather than objective evidence, guide our judgments and actions, which can sometimes create issues with cognitive distortion. Therapy can be a powerful tool in enhancing emotional reasoning skills and breaking free of your limiting beliefs.
Understanding Emotional Reasoning
Emotional reasoning is a cognitive distortion that occurs when an individual relies solely on their emotions to interpret situations, make decisions, or draw conclusions, often without considering objective evidence. This can manifest in various ways:
- Anxiety: Someone who emotionally reasons might conclude, “I feel anxious, so something bad must be happening,” even if there’s no concrete evidence to support this belief.
- Depression: Emotional reasoning can reinforce depressive thoughts like, “I feel worthless, so I must be a burden to others.”
- Relationships: It can also affect relationships. For instance, someone may think, “I feel neglected, so my partner must not care about me,” without discussing their feelings.
- Self-Esteem: Low self-esteem often involves emotional reasoning. People might believe, “I feel like a failure, so I must be a failure.”
Several factors contribute to the profound impact of emotions on the conclusions people draw:
- Emotional Authenticity: Emotions are experienced firsthand, creating an inherent sense of validity and significance (Clore & Gasper, 2000). Because emotions originate within us, they feel undeniably genuine.
- Emotion-Driven Credibility: Emotions bolster the trustworthiness of information and inferences. They affect our perception of the likelihood that information is true by influencing our thought processes and shaping the range of implications we explore (Frijda & Mesquita, 2000).
- Attentional Influence: Emotions have the power to direct our attention. When individuals experience anxiety, they tend to focus selectively on stimuli that confirm their perception of threat, reinforcing their assessment of danger.
- Challenges in Reality Testing: Arntz and colleagues (1995) propose that individuals with anxiety disorders may struggle with reality testing. They might be inclined to respond to anxiety by seeking escape rather than objectively evaluating whether it’s a false alarm.
In essence, emotions play a multifaceted role in shaping our thoughts and judgments, making them a potent force in our decision-making processes.
Individuals who frequently employ emotional reasoning might exhibit ‘blind spots’ characterized by:
- Neglecting Reality-Checking of Emotional Responses: They may fail to verify the accuracy of their emotional reactions against objective facts.
- Struggling to Disengage from Emotional Reactions: Difficulty in detaching from intense emotional responses, even when it’s beneficial to do so.
- Overlooking Alternative Explanations and Outcomes: Tending to dismiss alternative interpretations or possibilities due to emotional fixations.
- Lacking Deliberative Decision-Making: Preferring impulsive, emotionally-driven decisions over well-thought-out choices.
- Acting on Instinct Rather Than Intention: Acting based on immediate emotional impulses rather than consciously intended actions.
This inclination toward emotional reasoning may have evolutionary roots. Gilbert (1998) suggests that humans have historically relied on rapid, instinctual emotions to make quick decisions, particularly in threatening situations.
Consequently, when discussing emotional reasoning with individuals, it’s essential to acknowledge that they are grappling with the primordial aspects of their brains, often struggling to bring these instincts under rational control (Gilbert, 1998, p.454).
Addressing Emotional Reasoning Using Therapeutic Techniques
Numerous therapeutic techniques can be employed to address emotional reasoning effectively. You can talk to your therapist about utilizing any of these techniques if you feel that you are more fixated on emotional reasoning.
- Decentering: This includes encouraging the cultivation of metacognitive awareness, allowing the client to step back and perceive their thoughts as opinions rather than facts (Flavell, 1979). This also involves guiding them to label the process of thinking with feelings instead of getting entangled in the content. For example, they can say to themselves, “I’m thinking with my emotions” whenever they detect these thought patterns.
- Cognitive Restructuring with Thought Records: Utilize self-monitoring to capture and reevaluate emotional reasoning as it unfolds. Helpful prompts may include:
- “How would you perceive this differently if you removed the ’emotional reasoning’ filter?”
- “What would your perspective be like if you were in a calmer or more hopeful state?”
- “What evidence supports or contradicts the judgment you’re forming?”
- “Are your conclusions based on feelings or factual observations?”
- “Imagine how a calm and confident person would view this situation. Does that perspective apply to you too?”
- “Now that your heart has spoken, let’s hear from your head. What are the pros and cons of your chosen course of action?”
- “What advice would you give to a friend who relied solely on emotions for judgment? Is it always wise to do so?”
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: This involves exploring the advantages and disadvantages of emotional reasoning. Discuss the problems it has caused and how things might change if clients relied more on facts. Some clients might believe that emotional reasoning is vital and functional, such as, “My instincts keep me safe.”
- Retrospective Mismatch: The therapist asks clients to recall instances of emotional reasoning and contrast their thoughts with actual events. Highlights the disparities between emotional reasoning and reality to challenge its perceived accuracy and utility (Wells, 1997).
- Shifting Emotional State: The therapist assists clients in transitioning to a calmer emotional state, perhaps through breathing exercises or guided imagery. After their distress subsides, they revisit the interpretations or conclusions made during emotional reasoning. Has there been a shift in their thinking?
- Reality-Testing: The therapist helps individuals view situations objectively rather than through the lens of emotion. They encourage clients to ground themselves in the present moment and compare their feelings-driven thoughts with observable reality. For example, if anxiety arises, can they identify any concrete signs of danger?
- Opposite Action: Emotional reasoning often leads to actions driven by distressing emotions, such as avoidance of perceived threats. Opposite action, as proposed by Linehan (1993), involves countering emotional reasoning by engaging in contrary behaviors. For instance, confronting, rather than avoiding, feared stimuli can alleviate anxiety. By adopting opposing response patterns, the initial emotional response weakens.
- “Just Because You Feel It…”: The therapist encourages clients to repeat the phrase “Just because you feel it, it doesn’t mean it’s true” whenever they engage in emotional reasoning. This simple reminder can be quite effective.
- Testing Beliefs and Assumptions: Explore whether clients hold beliefs or assumptions that drive emotional reasoning, such as “My feelings are a true reflection of reality” or “I must always trust my instincts.” If such assumptions are identified, help clients assess their accuracy and usefulness. Encourage consideration of healthier beliefs, such as “Feelings are just one source of information and guidance” and “Gut reactions are not always accurate.” Behavioral experiments and surveys can be used to test these assumptions.
These therapeutic techniques empower individuals to challenge and transform reasoning, promoting healthier and more rational thinking patterns.
The Importance of Building Emotional Reasoning Skills
It plays a crucial role in our daily lives, influencing our mental well-being, relationships, and overall quality of life. Here’s why it’s essential:
- Improved Decision-Making: Emotional reasoning can lead to impulsive decisions based solely on our emotional state. Developing skills helps us make more balanced and rational choices.
- Enhanced Relationships: Misinterpreting others’ emotions can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. It encourages empathy and better communication, improving relationships.
- Stress Management: It often contributes to stress and anxiety. Learning to recognize and challenge this reasoning can reduce stress levels.
- Self-Awareness: Developing reasoning skills leads to greater self-awareness. It allows individuals to understand their emotions, identify triggers, and respond more effectively.
Embrace Your Emotional Intelligence
Unlock the power of emotional reasoning and experience a more fulfilling life. Reach out to COPE Psychological Center today and embark on a journey to enhance your emotional intelligence. Let’s navigate your emotions together and build a brighter, more balanced future.