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Western Reserve Psychological Associates, Inc.Empowering change for over 40 years
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Thinking Straight and Feeling Good—a Primer

We have all had the experience of having something happen that makes us feel a certain way -- happy, sad, anxious, angry, disappointed, frightened, etc. While our experience tells us that what we feel is the result of what happened, that is an over-simplification. What really takes place is that something happens, and we perceive it and "filter" it through what we have learned previously -- our values, attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, preferences and convictions. Based upon all this, we then "tell" ourselves things about what just happened -- we interpret the event to ourselves. Our feelings are then determined by what we have told ourselves about what happened, how we interpreted it, and not by the event itself. This process occurs so quickly that mostly we are unaware of it. This explains why the same event can be experienced differently by different people.

Since we cannot influence our feelings directly, that is, we cannot "will" ourselves to feel as we wish to feel, it follows, then, that if we wish to change how we feel, there are really only two places where we can intervene. One is to change the event; for example if we have a bad job and leave it for a better one, we have changed things so that our experience is different. Sometimes we can do that; much of the time we are "stuck" with the world we are in. If we cannot change our world, the only other place we can make changes is in what we tell ourselves about the events we perceive. If we can learn to capture the things we tell ourselves, our thoughts about the events, we can analyze these thoughts for how reasonable and sensible they really are, and to substitute more reasonable and sensible thoughts for the ones we had earlier. It has been found that most really bad feelings or emotions are based on thoughts that are unreasonable in one way or another -- exaggerations, distortions, catastrophizing or "making mountains out of molehills" over generalizing, drawing conclusions from insufficient evidence, etc.

When we find ourselves feeling bad -- depressed, anxious, angry, disappointed, etc., that should be our clue that we probably are not thinking straight, and to then ask ourselves, "what are my thoughts that are giving rise to these feelings?" When we examine these thoughts, we generally can find more reasonable thoughts with which to replace them, our feelings follow, and we are better off for it!

Happy Holidays

John Lowenfeld, Ph.D. ABPP
Clinical Psychologist

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