The Blunder of Emotional Reasoning

The concept of trusting your gut might not be as simple as the phrase suggests.

Unconsciously, your gut may be misleading you. Emotional reasoning obscures one’s gut judgement by blurring the lines between reality and distortion. This phenomena is defined as accepting one’s emotional thoughts or feelings as reality without it having any present basis in fact. According to Aaron Beck MD, a pioneer in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, one engages in emotional reasoning when someone comes to the conclusion that their emotional reaction defines their reality. As we continue analyzing Cognitive Distortions through this series, understanding emotional reasoning will help you trust your gut, with true facts.

Emotional reasoning is ever present in scenarios common to daily life. The feelings that procrastination triggers, for example, might be a result of avoiding something you feel that you may fail at. The mere presence of a certain feeling or emotion is enough to prove to your mind that there is truth in that feeling. This creates a world in which the ‘truth” is distorted and supported by feelings rather than evidence.

Some common examples that may be familiar include:

  • You can’t help feeling fat, though your doctor and those around you tell you that your weight lies comfortably within the normal range. You actually know this, and still feel this way therefore it must be true.
  • In your relationship, you struggle mightily with feelings of jealousy. You can’t resist accusing your partner of infidelity, even though they’ve shown nothing but devotion to you and you have no plausible evidence that you’ve been betrayed.
  • Despite having in various ways demonstrated that you’re a worthy individual as anyone else, you remain convinced that somehow you are still worthless—for the feelings of worthlessness.
  • “You feel stupid, so you’re convinced you must be dumb, regardless of the fact that your grades in school were as good as (or even better than) others and, as an adult, you’ve achieved at least as much as those around you.”
  • “You feel enraged with someone, so you take for granted that they must have done something bad, though you really can’t put your finger on anything specific and nothing about their behavior seems to provoke anyone else.”
  • “You feel lonely so you’re compelled to deduce that no one cares about you, that your feeling unequivocally confirms your unlovability.”

The important aspect to remember is that once you’re aware of this type of thinking, there are concrete ways to help end these patterns of distortion. According to experts, practicing these skills below can help your thoughts be rooted in reality rather
than emotion.

Start by asking yourself:

  • “What are the facts that support my emotionally-based determination?”
  • “Have I (arbitrarily) discounted, or dismissed, more positive explanations for my, well, “emotional findings?”
  • “In any case, most Cognitive Behavioral Therapy therapists would also recommend “scientifically,” putting your unverified assumptions to the empirical test.”

Changing any type of thinking pattern takes time and requires work. When stepping away from emotional reasoning, finding the facts that are supported by concrete evidence in each cognition rather than subscribing to the idea that, “I feel it, therefore it must be true,” will help.

About The Author

Rudairo Segbeaya is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. Rudairo received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco in 2018. In 2021, she later received a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.