Thoughts vs Feelings

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“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

In this series, we will be reviewing the “Treatments That Work” workbook, ” Overcoming Depression.” The intention will be to highlight key skills that can be helpful in easing the difficulties experienced from depression. As a recap, BEAST is the mnemonic used to not only give a picture of the burden of depression, but also give a framework of how to conquer it. BEAST stands for Body, Emotion, Action, Situation, and Thoughts.

In the last post, we introduced the connection between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Today, we will talk about knowing the difference between thoughts and feelings and why the difference is important. We will also focus on naming and managing feelings.

Our Vernacular Has Failed Us

Two of the most overused and misused statements are ” I feel” and ” I feel like. ” Many people use the word “feel” when they aren’t talking about emotions. How you feel in a given moment is indisputable. It’s a fact that you feel that way. The danger is that when people express a thought as a feeling, they are expressing their thoughts and opinions as indisputable facts. Thoughts are niduses of change. Challenging our thoughts helps us to  change our mindset, emotions, behaviors, and lifestyle.

In order to drive my point home, we will play a game. I will give 5 statements and I want you to tell me whether they are a thought or a feelings.

I feel like a failure.

I feel dirty.

I feel like I’m in danger

I feel unstoppable.

I feel worthless.

The answer is that none of those are emotions. Those were all thoughts. Some of those statements also alluded to body sensations. For example, some people can viscerally feel like they are in danger. If we were to express those thoughts as feelings, we could use the following statements:

I feel angry.

I feel disgusted.

I feel afraid.

I feel joyous.

I feel sad.

In fact, anger, disgust, fear, joy, and sadness are the 5 basic emotions from which all emotions stem.

I feel ( Fill in the Blank). Now what?

We can challenge our thoughts, but what about our feelings? What are we supposed to do if what we feel is what we feel. No worries. We can use our feelings in a helpful way. Our feelings drive our thoughts and behaviors. Thus our thoughts and behaviors don’t just come out of nowhere. It’s important to call out our feelings and the intensity of  those emotions.  Have you ever responded to something out of proportion to what happened? Sometimes, that happens because you had an unchecked emotion. My favorite example is rage. It’s difficult for some people to call out that they have rage against socially unacceptable things like their spouse, children, boss, or parent. The emotion bubbles up until it boils over . I used rage as an example, but this can happen for any emotion. Yet, when we call out our emotions and figure out why we have those emotions, we are better able to regain control of our thoughts, behaviors, and future feelings.  I have attached a PDF below with a list of emotions. It would be powerful to look at that list when you have an emotion that you can’t figure out. Call the emotion out and work from there.

Emotions are complicated. There are so many internal and external factors to how we feel at any given time. Thus, it is important that we have self-compassion. We should forgive and love ourselves. We shouldn’t beat ourselves because of how we feel. Instead, we should accept how we feel, so we can be more accountable for our actions. Unchecked emotions lead to an out of control life. The best thing you can do is to acknowledge you feelings, try to find the cause, and take control. This is easier said than done. Hence, if you can’t work through your emotions on your own or the cause is too much for you to manage on your own, it may be worth seeking out mental health treatment. Therapy and medications are critical for many people to confront and manage their emotions. If this is your situation, it’s even more important that you have self-compassion. 

The skills in this blog post were adapted from :

Gilson, M., & Freeman, A. (2009). Overcoming Depression: A Cognitive Therapy Approach Therapist Guide. Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved from

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