Learning Thoughts and Emotions

Accurately labeling thoughts and emotions can help you cope more effectively.

Posted Jun 16, 2013

taramara78/Shutterstock
Source: taramara78/Shutterstock

We all have different ways of viewing the world. Some may have a strong sense of smell, and their experiences are filtered through aromas and scents. Others may be particularly visual and react primarily to what they see. A bed of flowers elicits calmness, while disarray in the home triggers anxiety.

The senses of touch, taste, and hearing can also be ways of connecting to the world and affect your experience of events, people, and situations. In addition to the senses, your worldview is influenced by the balance between your thoughts and emotions.

Many people feel love and affection for puppies. For some, that love will dominate, and they will be filled with longing to take the puppy home. They may do so even though they have no room for another pet. Others may smile and appreciate the puppy, but resist adopting, because they do not have the time and money it takes to care for an animal. 

If you act more in accordance with your emotions, knowing and understanding what you are feeling will help you be effective in making wise choices. Being able to name your emotions and identify the reasons for your feelings will be important. Confusing anxiety and excitement could mean missing out on important events. Confusing excitement and happiness could mean pursuing new experiences and losing out on contentment.

Maybe you label your thoughts as emotions. For example, you might react to an event with the words: "I feel so betrayed." In truth, betrayal is not a feeling, but an action that you label in your thoughts. You may feel sad, angry, or hurt as a result of betrayal, or even at the thought that you have been betrayed.

Thoughts and feelings are both part of the experience of being betrayed. Perhaps saying, "I feel betrayed," is a shorthand way of relating that total experience, but neither thoughts nor feelings are accurately expressed. If the thought is left out, it changes your experience and makes coping more difficult. Being able to accurately label the emotion you are experiencing is part of managing that emotion effectively.

Consider another example. When you say, "I feel stupid," both the thought and the feeling are masked. The thought is: "I am stupid." The feelings may be shame, sadness, or hurt.

If you feel emotions but don't label them, you will have more difficulty coping. Accurate labels are part of managing emotions. In addition, you probably know skills to manage true emotions, but there is no skill for "feeling" stupid, because it is not a feeling.

Leaving out the thought means you may not see the judgment and invalidation in your thinking. Because feelings just are; you accept them without requiring evidence. Instead, you check to see if your feelings are justified. For example, you might say that you feel afraid, accept that you are fearful, then check for the threat. If there is no true threat to your safety, you work on managing your feeling.

So if you label "stupid" as a feeling, you accept that is the way you "feel," and you are likely to find a situation that justifies the "feeling." Finding such a situation could be easy to do. Your actions based on "feeling" stupid could well make the situation worse. In addition, accepting the "feeling" that you are stupid could lead to your seeing that characteristic as part of your identity, though it was actually an untrue thought and not a feeling at all.

Accurately labeling the experience as "I think I am stupid" leads to a different result. You can challenge your thoughts and check to see if they are accurate. If you ask yourself if it is true that you are stupid, then there are likely to be many situations that disprove that idea.

Consider the comment, "I feel broken." If you believe that you feel broken, evidence to the contrary won't change the statement, and your feelings will be masked by the thought of being broken. One way to reword the statement to reflect both feelings and thoughts would be: "I think I am broken because I see myself as abandoned by others," and "I feel a painful sadness."

The statement about feeling broken could also be shorthand for other thoughts and feelings. Identifying your experience accurately will help you cope more effectively, react more from wisdom and less from emotion, and not distort your sense of self based on what may be inaccurate thoughts which you've labeled as feelings.