Monday, December 20, 2010

Emotional Reasoning is Irrational Reasoning

Emotional Reasoning and Gut Thinking is the mental mistake of allowing your feelings to dictate your thinking, and to reason that your skewed thinking must be accurate because your feelings are validating your thoughts.  For example, if you are feeling anxious about something, you are likely to think anxious thoughts about other things that you might not normally consider fearful. In response to the anxious thinking, you feel more anxious. This results in a cycle of anxious thinking that can lead many into silly fear-based decisions or even to full-blown panic attacks.

It is important to understand that when we feel bad physically, such as when we are fatigued or dealing with an illness, we are prone to look at situations as much bigger or more important than they are in reality, and therefore fall into the trap of emotional reasoning. Below are some examples of how emotional reasoning and gut thinking could get us into trouble, and some solutions to help us overcome this mental mistake.

For Example:
Anxious Annie: I am so stressed out. I have so much to do today, and I'm afraid I can't get it done. If I don't finish my projects, pick up my kids, have dinner on the table by 5:30, run by the cleaners, the bank, the church, bring that meal to that family who was just in the hospital, pay all the bills, clean the house from top to bottom for the open house tomorrow night, smile while doing the jobs of the last two people who got fired plus take care of my responsibilities at work, coach the soccer team to a winning season and make my kids practice piano, karate, band instruments, and do homework, then I'll be a good-for-nothing lazy wife and mom who is a failure. I am so stressed out! If I'm a not good enough, then my husband will leave me and then my kids won't be well adjusted and they'll spend 30 years in therapy! That would be terrible! Oh no! Now I have the hiccups! I can't get a deep breath! I must have something wrong! I must be dying! My kids will definitely not be well-adjusted if I die! Now my heart hurts and my palms are sweaty and I feel nauseated!  What's happening? I don't know! I think I'm going to die!

Grumpy Gus: What a gloomy day. I am so tired. I have to deal with that client today.  He really ticks me off. I just get angry thinking about him!  And you know what? I have to go to that stupid meeting afterward. I can't stand that meeting! And when I go home, I bet my wife won't have dinner ready after I've worked so hard all day. You know, she really doesn't love me. UGH! I'm feel so frustrated and angry! I have nothing good to look forward to! My life is going all wrong! I feel so sad, alone, and abandoned, at that makes me mad!

How to overcome Emotional Reasonal and Gut Thinking:
1. Call it what it is. Just assigning a name to your thought patterns can pull you out of them enough  to change them.

2. Ask yourself, "Do I usually think this way about this situation, or do I only think this way when I am in a certain mood or upset about something else?" If the answer is that you only think this way about this situation when you are upset, refuse to allow this thinking to continue and apply the three rational questions.

Anxious Annie's new thinking:
I am so stressed out.  I have a lot to do today.  I am afraid I won't be able to get it all done.  I am probably especially prone to emotional reasoning right now, so I need to change my thinking. Instead of thinking that I'm a good-for-nothing lazy wife and mom if I don't get all this done today, I will just call myself a fallible human being just like everyone else. It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm a failure and my kids won't be well-adjusted if I can't get to a few things by today.  I will prioritize my day and work hard to get my responsibilities taken care of.  Hmmm...that's interesting. I just hiccupped.   Just because I have the hiccups doesn't necessarily mean that I will suffocate. I'll concentrate and take a few deep breaths, but I know the hiccups will go away soon.

Grumpy Gus' new thinking:
It's a gloomy day and I'm tired. I choose to meet with that client today. I usually look forward to that client, but I'm not today. I must be reasoning emotionally because I don't feel good. And most of the time I don't mind that meeting. My wife may not have dinner ready, but that doesn't necessarily mean she doesn't love me. Maybe she had a hard day, too. I guess life isn't as bad as it had seemed.

Watch out for emotional reasoning and gut thinking in your life, and your life will be better for it!

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client’s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a healthy, happy life… no matter what! Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

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