Differentiating Between Emotions and Thoughts

Do you have difficulty separating your thoughts from your emotions? If you do, you may blame others for how you feel and behave. You may also feel responsible for the emotions and behaviour of others.

If we have difficulty separating our thoughts from our emotions, and believe that outside influences are responsible for how we feel and behave, we may be undifferentiated.

If undifferentiated, we become flooded with emotions and blame other people for causing our feelings.

You can free yourself from emotional dependence on others by taking responsibility for your own emotional well-being and allow others to take responsibility for theirs.

We are Responsible for what We Need

We are responsible for what we need and want. Too often we try to turn what we have found into what we need, rather than continuing to search for what we really want. We sell ourselves out, and lose our self-respect in the process.

Our Emotions are not Caused by Events

In order to break free from our dependence on others, we must understand that our emotions are not caused by what happens; but by what we think about what happens.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have thoughts and emotions about what happens, it’s that accepting responsibly for how we feel and think allows us to accept that others do not control our responses.

When we accept responsibility for ourselves, we experience our emotions without escalating them. We don’t accuse others of causing us to feel or behave the way we do. We know our thoughts aren’t necessarly true, so we challenge them. We control our impulses and don’t behave reactively.

Our Thoughts are not Facts

When our thoughts and emotions get jumbled together, we can’t separate what we feel from what we think. We assume that our feelings prove our thoughts are true.

If we are hurt, we assume what someone did was hurtful. If we are angry, we assume what someone did was wrong. If we feel disrespected, we assume what someone did was disrespectful. None of these assumptions are necessarily true.

While our feelings are always factual, our thoughts are not.

DBT Skill: Observe, Describe, Participate

We can slow down our thoughts and emotions by dealing with them one at a time. The core mindfulness skill of “Observe, Describe, and Participate” helps differentiate emotions from thoughts. This skill is described fully in the post “Mindfulness Lesson from my Granddaughter.

For more information check out the related posts and additional resources section below. For specific DBT skills go to DBT Skills in the menu bar.

If you have an experience you’d like to share, add a comment at the bottom of the page. I’d love to hear from you.

“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.”
Mahatma Ghandi

Author: Jenny dereis

I am a counsellor at Walmsley Counselling Agency in Prince George, BC. I have a Master's Degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary and a certificate in Substance Misuse and a certificate in Working with Survivors of Sexual Abuse. I am currently working towards certification in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.