Thinking Traps VI: Emotional Reasoning

“Something bad is going to happen I can feel it.” Claudia was about to start a new job, the first step toward her dream job as a designer. “This is going to end badly”.

“There she was laughing, rubbing his shoulder, rubbing my face in it!” Oscar’s classmate and former love interest Amanda had recently started dating Jayden, a mutual friend. “She’s going out of her way to taunt me, the b***h!”

“They think I’m weak, pathetic!” Rodney hadn’t stuck up for himself at the monthly meeting and had been off work ever since.

Emotions communicate to us and others that something is going right or wrong. Becoming emotionally intelligent means learning to read our emotions and the emotions of others. Sometimes we get this right, and sometimes wrong. When our emotions are particularly strong, we can have a tendency to jump to conclusions about their message. Accepting the first interpretation of our emotions on face value is called emotional reasoning.

Unlike reasoning reasoning, which involved examining the evidence, developing competing theories and testing these theories out, emotional reasoning involves creating a story that feels true. This story can be very “sticky” – it often sticks in our mind despite the evidence. Each emotion has its own type of story that are likely to be associated with it, for example:

Emotion Emotional Reasoning True Message



“Something bad is going to happen”


“I’m being reminded of a past trauma”




“He’s an a****ole”


“I think I’m being treated unfairly”




“She’s cheating on me”


“I’m so scared of being abandoned”




“I’ll never be happy”


“I have to grieve”




“Nobody loves me”


“I miss company”




“I’m worthless”


“I’m worried people will reject me”


When we emotionally reason, we are accepting the first story that our emotions tell us. Emotions almost always have some useful information for us, its just that sometimes we have to dig a little deeper. Questions to ask yourself are:

  • What is the evidence that this story is true/untrue?
  • What does this information tell me about the person/thing/situation I feel it toward?
  • What does this information tell me about myself?
  • What are some other possible things I could be feeling this about?
  • Am I reacting more to the current situation or a past situation?
  • Does the person I’m reacting to remind me of someone in the past?

At its heart, combatting emotional reasoning means second guessing our emotions. But it is important not to ignore them. Listening to your emotions is good – you just don’t have to believe the first story they tell you!

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