Module 3: The Thinking-Feeling Connection
People often believe that the feelings and emotions they experience are determined by external events, situations,
and the behaviour of others. For example, we may hear ourselves say, “My boss made me so nervous,” “My
partner made me so angry,” “This trip down south made me feel so relaxed,” or “I’m depressed because I didn’t
get the job I wanted.” What is the assumption underlying these statements? That someone or something other
than ourselves was directly determining the feelings we experienced.
We come to these conclusions automatically without asking ourselves if this assumption is true. However, if we
stop to analyse the process that links an external situation to our emotional responses, we will find that there is a
step in between.
How Our Thoughts Influence Our Feelings
What really makes us feel and respond the way we do, is often not the situation or the words and actions of
another person, but how we perceive that situation or that person’s actions. It is how we see something or
someone and what we think about it or them that really influences how we feel. It is our
thoughts and beliefs about an event that significantly influences our emotions and actions.
Here’s an example. Suppose you went to a party and your host introduces you to Mike. As
you talk to him, you notice that he does not look directly at you but often looks around the
room. How would you feel if you thought, “Boy, this guy is so rude! He won’t even look at me
while I’m talking with him! How nasty!” What if you thought, “Mike must think that I’m really
unattractive and uninteresting. I must be a really boring person. Nobody wants to talk to me!”
What about if you were to think, “Mike’s probably waiting for a friend to come. Maybe he’s getting a bit anxious.”
You probably realised that you felt three different emotions as a result of those three different thoughts. Often,
we are not aware of our thoughts and beliefs because they are so automatic and happen quickly. But they are
there, and they affect the way we feel.
What am I Feeling?
It is often difficult to know exactly what we are feeling, and sometimes it can also be difficult to put it into words.
The list below contains words that describe feelings, and this might be a useful starting point in you being able to
understand the connection between your thinking and your feelings.
Words that Describe Feelings
This is only a limited list but it should give you an idea of the kinds of words we could use to describe our feelings.
Just as we are not always conscious of the way we walk or how we drive a car, we are often not aware of our
thinking. Some of our thinking is so habitual that it is automatic, and just like driving, when things are automatic,
we might not be conscious of them. All of the time, our brains are turning over thoughts and ideas. However, we
are not consciously aware of most of them because it happens relatively fast and we are not accustomed to
slowing them down. Our automatic thoughts, however, play an important role in our emotional well-being.