Emotional Reasoning: what it is, and what the Consequences are

Emotional Reasoning: what it is, and what the Consequences are

Last update: 04 June, 2018

Emotional reasoning is a term that describes a kind of cognitive distortion.  Aaron Beck, the founder of Cognitive Therapy, was the person to use this term, back in the 1970s.

According to Beck, any time you decide that your emotional reaction lines up with reality, that’s a case of emotional reasoning. So you toss out any actual evidence or just ignore it, and only pay attention to this “truth” that comes from your own feelings. On top of that, Beck said that this kind of reasoning has a basis in negative thoughts, which are involuntary, uncontrollable and automatic.

Feelings aren’t facts

Emotional reasoning assumes that what you feel must be true in general. For example, if you feel sad, it must be true that life isn’t going well for you, and you’re just unlucky. Of course, it can be good to get in touch with your feelings. But not if what you feel is extremely different from what’s actually happening to you.

The strength of your feelings leads to convictions, which usually stick around until the emotional storm dies out. When you practice emotional reasoning, what you’re doing is believing the automatic thoughts that cause emotional problems. Then you end up trying to reason things out based on your feelings.

That’s why emotional reasoning usually distorts your reality and paints it in a negative light. Actually, it can also paint it in a positive light, but we’re not going to look at that side of it in this article. It’s a light that lines up perfectly with your world, and you don’t notice its influence on you. So you never ask yourself if what you’re seeing is actually true, and if you’re manipulating it at all.

Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.

-Gretchen Rubin-

Thinking emotionally can sabotage your present moment

Emotional reasoning is a very tricky kind of reasoning, because it’s based on feelings. The problem is that feelings only reflect thoughts and beliefs, not realities. For example, everyone has felt like an idiot at some point in their life. But that doesn’t mean we’re all idiots just because we’ve felt that way, right?

Of course not! It’s a distorted feeling, which means that the emotions we get from it aren’t good proof that we’re actually idiots. The same thing happens, for example, when you feel overwhelmed or hopeless about something.  Those feelings don’t mean your problems are impossible to solve and that it’s all over already. 

Emotional reasoning also has a really common side effect: procrastination. If you feel like you’re going to mess something up, you’ll probably postpone it or not try to do it at all. The procrastination gets in the way of you making healthy decisions for your self-care.

When something is certain, our natural reaction isn’t to fight to avoid it or get rid of it. We usually resign ourselves to that reality and just accept it as a fact. What generally happens then is that your perception of reality will almost always become real.

woman looking out of car window using emotional reasoning to think about someone far away

Emotional reasoning and depression

Emotional reasoning plays a huge role in almost all cases of depression. Since depressed people feel things so negatively, they usually assume things really are that way. It never occurs to them to question whether the perception coming from their feelings is valid or not.

A lot of depressed people end up falling into emotional reasoning. For example, they might start to filter things out and focus on the negative aspects of some very positive outcome. They do it because they’re moving through life in a negative state of mind. Plus, it doesn’t make much difference whether they have any control over this situation or not. In the end, that’ll just go over their head as long as they’re using emotional reasoning.

One of the big problems is that emotional reasoning is really just a learned behavior, since so many people use it. It’s also worth mentioning that emotional reasoning doesn’t lead to depression. But the thought patterns it brings you to make it really hard to fight depression off when you do have it.

The honest truth is that emotional reasoning is really common. We all like to think we make rational decisions, but we actually don’t most of the time. It’s much easier to let our feelings guide us.

In fact, because of the way our brain is wired, it’s much easier to make a decision based on feelings than it is to make one based on facts. We don’t usually look for facts to back up our conclusions. We just accept them at face value because it’s easier.

Change your limiting beliefs and put a stop to emotional reasoning

The main problem with incorrect thoughts (the ones that come into play with emotional reasoning) is that once you’ve decided your emotions are facts, you stop looking for any alternative explanations for things. That’s why these thoughts are so limiting and so problematic.

If you want to put a stop to emotional reasoning, start looking out for any times when it’s taking over your thoughts. Then try to slow yourself down for a few seconds and do these things:

  • Take note of your thoughts. If you spot emotional reasoning, remember that those feelings might not have much to do with what’s actually going on around you. Think objectively about things.
  • Put on your “calm glasses.” Ask yourself if you’d look at the situation differently if you were much calmer. Try to look at the evidence and decide if the emotions you’re feeling are appropriate and understandable in the actual situation.
  • Give your emotions time to go away, because sometimes they actually disappear pretty fast. So take some time and question your conclusions once the emotional thorn in your side has gone away. It’s much easier to get a different perspective on things once you’ve calmed down.

Never lose sight of the fact that emotional reasoning is a mental trap. It’s an illusion that appears when you’re having trouble managing the emotions that feed off of your feelings. Of course, as negative as they might be, emotions are never bad in and of themselves. They’re really there to help us survive.

Running a marathon with a backpack is tough and may hinder you from winning the race. Don’t let the baggage from your past – heavy with fear, guilt, and anger – slow you down.

-Maddy Malhotra-

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.