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The Need for Emotional Processing

One of my biggest Aha! moments in life so far, was when I learned about the need for emotional processing.

I used to believe that my feelings were directly linked to The Truth, both internal and external. That my emotions were like a litmus test on Reality. That all I needed to do was tune in to my feelings, and the Answers would emerge.

Well, no, that’s not how it actually works:

  • Emotions are way more complex, and they need to be interpreted, not simply obeyed in raw form. See Jonah Lehrer’s excellent book, How We Decide, for a thorough discussion on how to interpret and integrate emotional messages.
  • The emotional system is delicate, and Life is rough. Like any fine, precision instrument, harsh treatment can put our emotions out of whack. And Life isn’t gentle! Chances are good that, like the car alarm that goes off when a leaf falls on the hood, your emotional system might become mis-calibrated and hyper-sensitive. Read Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon for some excellent perspectives on emotional wear-and-tear, especially in people with sensitive and/or depressive tendencies.
  • Thinking and feeling are NOT separate. In fact, they are inextricably linked. Antonio Damasio’s classic, Descartes’ Error, explains how rational thought emerges out of emotions. Some people seem, like Mr. Spock from StarTrek, to “think too much” and to “not have any feelings,” but in fact those people’s cognitive abilities come from high emotional sensitivity.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover. Some people are way more emotionally expressive than are others. It’s often the MOST sensitive and emotionally tuned-in folks who don’t show it on the outside.

Have you ever wondered why talking can affect your emotions?…why therapy works (after all, it’s just words!)…why information (including mis-information; stuff you mis-understood which wound up being false) can make you feel so good or so bad? If┬áthinking and emotions weren’t linked, then information wouldn’t have an impact on our feelings.

The good news is, understanding the link between thinking and feeling helps put both under your control, and makes them less overwhelming and scary.

(photo: modern art makes me think AND makes me feel)

The Need for Emotional Processing

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2011). The Need for Emotional Processing. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2011
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