Thoughts and Feelings are Linked

Published Categorized as emotional literacy, Understanding emotions

Feelings affect our thinking and thinking affects what we feel. The two are linked. This seems obvious but we don’t always acknowledge this consciously. The way our thinking and feeling is triggered by any situation often impacts on what happens next. For example, if someone barged in front of us when you were trying to enter a building, how we interpret that, can trigger quite different feelings.

For example.


Could trigger……

   How rude!


   Why do they think they are more important than me?


   They are obviously in a rush to get somewhere.

Nothing much

   They must be having a tricky morning.

Some compassion

If still unconscious or not noticed at all, the resulting emotions can affect how you respond and you can quickly see how different the responses could be with each of those interpretations.

So thinking and feelings are very linked. This is something I think it is great to teach children but it can take lots of practice to be aware of what is happening both feelings and thoughts-wise in situations that have triggered emotions. I look at this briefly in my video: The link between thoughts and emotions aimed at Key Stage 2 and above.

Now a bit for grown-ups!

There’s more to say about the link between thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, as adults, we have quite entrenched ways of reacting. In other words, we can have some very automated ways of reacting to certain situations that trigger certain thoughts and feelings. These responses usually:

1) originate as responses to the adults from early in our lives and

2) so automatic we are not even aware of them.

As our self-awareness increases, we can often free ourselves from these reactions so that we have a choice of how we respond to any incident rather than it being dictated by rigidly repeated responses. This definitely make life easier! So whether we have just been insulted, given far more work than we have time to do, been ignored by someone, had a string of things so wrong, someone refuses to listen to us etc it’s good to consider if we have any patterns in our reactions that we are unaware of.

Here are some thinking reaction to emotions, some thinking that drives emotions and some emotion driven thinking!

  • Completely believing the emotions. So if what happened made us feel stupid, we think we must be stupid. Does the voice in your head do this?
  • Generalising. Taking one incident e.g. forgetting someone’s birthday and deciding you are always rubbish at remembering anything. Use of absolute words like ‘always, ‘never’ and ‘everyone’ give us clues to this type of thinking.
  • Thinking in absolutes. This is where you quickly decide another person is all ‘good’ or all ‘bad’ because of what they did. It doesn’t allow for the idea that the person might be having a bad day for example! Very few, if any, people are all bad or all good.
  • Mind-reading. This is very linked to low self-esteem. It is where you draw negative conclusions from what happened. So if you were ignored by someone, you might conclude that person thinks you are boring or doesn’t like you. It’s about looking for evidence to ‘beat yourself up with!’
  • Catastrophising. This thinking often comes with anxiety. It’s where you start to think that everything that could go wrong, will go wrong.
  • Ruminating. This also goes hand in hand with stress and anxiety. It is where you think about the same negative thought over and over again so it keeps you in an anxious state. I talk about both ruminating and catastrophising in my video about anxiety.
  • Focusing on the negative. This is where in any situation, we ignore all the positives and focus solely and fixatedly on the negatives. So if we did some public speaking, we ignore all the praise and just kick ourselves for something we thought we said that was a bit daft.
  • Personalisation. This links to the phrase, ‘taking something personally’. It’s where we assume a general negative comment must be referring specifically to us. So if a partner said the house was a bit messy, we immediately assume it is a criticism targeted directly at us.
  • Blaming. This is the opposite of personalisation because it’s when we take no responsibility for what happened, automatically blame others and we believe ourselves to be powerless victims of circumstance.
  • Martyrdom. This is where we undertake tasks because we think nobody else will and that everything hinges on us. We might resent that everything always depends on us. We also assume that everyone notices our efforts and we will be rewarded for all our sacrifice!
  • We know best. This is where we have no flexibility when it comes to decisions because we assume we are always right and we can’t understand why others won’t just do what we can see is the right thing to do.
  • Responsibility for others. If someone is upset or grumpy around us, we believe it is our responsibility to sort out the situation so they feel better.
  • Strict rules. This is where we have a very strong idea of what people should and should not do and if they break those rules, we will have an automatic emotional response.

This list is unlikely to be comprehensive as people are so many and varied but these can start you thinking about any automatic thinking and feeling responses you might have. Bringing these reactions into awareness so that you can see them as they arise means you will be in control of these reactions rather than these reactions being in control of you. And the more emotional intelligence you have, the greater capacity you’ll have to help your children process their emotions.