The distinction between thoughts and emotions – Reblog

humor makes things better
Drawing by Adrian Serghie

Yeah, I know. It sounds pretty easy, right? Judith S. Beck talks in her book Cognitive therapy: Basics and beyond (1995) about confusions people often make. Let me give you some examples:

  1. feel that he hates me.
  2. I know today is going to be a bad day, I can feel
  3. think I’m sad.

“Why the f*ck does it matter?” Great question! It matters because according to the cognitive therapy, we can do something directly about the thoughts, but not directly to feelings. Thoughts can be countered while emotions can indicate how important is a topic/situation for that person so labeling them correctly can help us know ourselves better. The correct labels would be:

  1. think he hates me (and this makes me feel sad/angry).
  2. I know today is going to be a bad day, or at least that’s what I think.
  3. feel sad.

Thoughts create emotions and emotions can keep the mind in a certain state which will bring more thoughts that can strengthen that emotion. It’s a vicious circle. Labeling them correctly can help us find a way to break that circle.

   “Emotions are what we’re experiencing at an emotional level – like sadness, anger, concern and so on. Thoughts are the ideas that we have; we’re thinking in either words or images.” Judith S. Beck

A thought can be evaluated and it can be true or false, but an emotion cannot be true or false. It just is. We feel it. It’s there. Maybe it’s not the appropriate emotion we could have in that situation, but that’s how it is. The stronger the emotion, the bigger impact we take in that situation. Emotions are ways to evaluate the importance of… something, while thoughts are our buttons that trigger those emotions. For example, you can tell to someone You shouldn’t think that, but you cannot say You shouldn’t feel that because we’re not in direct control of what we feel, but we’re in control of what we think (with lots of practice).

We’re always thinking either we realize it or not. We’re often surprised by a certain feeling and we don’t know why, but something went through our minds without us noticing. Our brain is a b*tch.

What do you think? Is it important to know the difference between thoughts and emotions?

9 thoughts on “The distinction between thoughts and emotions – Reblog

  1. Hmmm. I don’t know. Buddha tells us that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Is suffering an emotion or a thought?

    I can endure pain, if I set my mind to it, but I don’t have to wallow in it.

    1. You Stated — “Is suffering an emotion or a thought?”

      My Response — A person suffers while being waterboarded, the thought they have is “Drowning” the emotion they feel is fear but “pain” is not part of the process.

      I would say that suffering is an “Experience”…….and is not limited by thought or emotion.

      1. Feeling pain and discomfort, certainly, but suffering is something that comes from within. One may acknowledge physical sensations but not rest attention on them.

        Do that and there is no suffering.

        For example, one may have a chronic disease giving constant pain, but attitude is key. Does one let it dominate life, or get on with other things?

        Suffering is optional.

  2. You Stated — “Emotions are what we’re experiencing … Thoughts are the ideas ”

    My Response — What if I have destructively negative thoughts while experiencing humor attending a comedy show?

  3. Yes! This is why I love CBT; it is so helpful to learn to separate emotions and thoughts. I read something recently that said it’s healthy to “own” our emotions and allow ourselves to experience them. But I think it’s easy to confuse emotions with our thoughts (or judgments) about what we are feeling. Great post!

  4. It’s vital to understand the difference between thoughts and feelings. It’s very helpful with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. The thoughts drive the feelings. You work, therefore, on challenging the thoughts in order to change the feelings.

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