To "emotionally reason" is to take your emotions as evidence for the truth.

Your logic: "I feel like an idiot, therefore I am an idiot"

Crystal ballThis kind of reasoning is misleading because your feelings reflect your thoughts and beliefs. If they are distorted — as is quite often the case — your emotions will have no validity.

Examples of emotional reasoning include: "I feel guilty, therefore I must have done something bad"; "I feel overwhelmed and hopeless, therefore my problems must be impossible to solve"; "I feel inadequate, therefore I must be a worthless person"; "I'm not in the mood to do anything, therefore I might as well just lie in bed"; or "I'm furious with you, this proves that you've been acting badly and trying to take advantage of me."

Emotional reasoning plays a role in almost all depressions. Because things feel so negative to a depressed person, such a person assumes they truly are. It doesn't occur to them to challenge the validity of the perception that creates their feelings.

One common side effect of emotional reasoning is procrastination. So, a desk-bound clerk avoids cleaning up his desk because he tells himself, "I feel so lousy when I think about that messy desk, cleaning it will be impossible." Six months later he finally gives himself a little push and does it. It turns out to be quite gratifying and not so tough at all. He was fooling himself all along because he had adopted the habit of letting his negative feelings guide the way he acted.

Techniques for 'un-distortion'

Robert Leahy has suggested the following techniques for challenging emotional reasoning:

  1. Rate the degree of your belief and identity and rate your emotions.
  2. Identify exactly what your emotional reasoning thought is — for example, "I feel so anxious, so something bad is going to happen".
  3. Distinguish between an emotion and a fact. Describe the facts — things that you can see or hear — rather than your emotional response to them.
  4. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis
    a. Does relying on your emotions make you feel like you are on a roller coaster?
    b. Do you think that your emotions protect you from, and prepare you for, the worst?
    c. How would your thoughts, feelings and behaviour change if you relied less on your emotions to make predictions or judgments?
  5. Examine evidence for and against your use of emotional reasoning. Does the evidence support your thought that your emotions have generally been a good or bad guide to reality?
  6. What cognitive distortions are you using to support your belief? Are you discounting positives, personalising, mind reading, fortune telling, catastrophising, using negative filters?
  7. How could you prove that your thought is wrong? Is it testable? How could you test out the belief that your emotions predict reality?
  8. What if your thought were true? Why would it bother you?
  9. What advice would you give a friend who relied primarily on his or her emotions to judge reality?