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How to Sort Your Thoughts From Your Feelings: And Why it Matters

Before you read on please take a moment to consider these two questions.

What do you think about child abuse?

What do you feel about child abuse?

If your answers to those two questions are very much the same, you are not alone. In fact most of us don’t consider how we think about something as distinct from what we feel about it.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked people what they feel about something and they responded with their thoughts instead, I would be a very wealthy woman.

That concerns me, and not because I don’t actually get a dollar each time it happens.

It concerns me because understanding the difference between thoughts and feelings is a cornerstone to mental health.

We human beings are equipped, separately, with thoughts and feelings for a reason. They actually originate in separate parts of the brain. Thoughts are a product of your cerebral cortex, whereas feelings originate from your limbic system, an area buried far more deeply in your brain. Your thoughts offer you information and logic, whereas your emotions offer you direction, motivation and connection.

When you’re able to coordinate these two influential forces to work together, you are harnessing the power of your brain.

Yet coordinating these two separate-but-related processes inside ourselves is definitely not easy. Most of us don’t do a great job of it. Some people are more thought-dominant, meaning they rely more on their thoughts; others are more feeling-dominant.

It’s especially hard to make your thoughts and feelings work together when they do not agree. Most of us often feel one way about something that we think the opposite way about. Here are some examples:

  • I know that staying up late is a bad idea. Yet I keep doing it.
  • I know this is a good thing, but yet I feel sad about it.
  • I should be really angry about this, but I’m not.
  • I can’t stand Jeremy, but I respect him very much.
  • This relationship is clearly bad for me but I can’t seem to get out of it.

Any of the opposing inner voices above could be quite confusing for the person who is thinking and feeling them. Sometimes it can make you feel out of control of yourself. You may feel undisciplined, weak, or even a little crazy.

Yet you are actually none of these things. You’re just a normal person, having two normal, potentially helpful operations working within you.

So how do you harness and coordinate your own thoughts and feelings? How can you blend them in a healthy way to make them work for you?

Five Ways to Separate Your Thoughts From Your Feelings & Use Them Both

  1. Recognize that your thoughts and feelings are separate and can be different and even opposing. It’s normal, and it’s OK.
  2. Don’t just ask yourself what you think about things in your life. Instead, once you’re as clear as possible on what you think, ask yourself what you feel.
  3. If your thoughts and feelings match, you will enjoy extra clarity.
  4. If your thoughts and feelings are complicated and/or at odds with each other, then consider which, in this situation, is more trustworthy. What parts of your feelings about this are more helpful? Why do you feel this way? What do your thoughts have to offer here? Are there some points on which your thoughts and feelings agree?
  5. Use your feelings to inform your thoughts, and use your thoughts to manage your feelings.
  6. If you are like most people, you are probably more in touch with your thoughts than your feelings. So learn more about your feelings, how they work and how to manage them. For help see and the book, Running on Empty.

Here are my answers to the questions above about child abuse. As you read them you’ll see how they are different.

What do you think about child abuse?

I think child abuse is far more damaging and far more prevalent than most people realize. I think it’s an under-recognized cause of crime, poverty and psychological dysfunction. I think that we need to do more to educate people about how harmful it is, and dedicate more resources to its prevention.

What do you feel about child abuse?

I feel hurt, weighed down and pained. I feel empathy for every abused child that I hear about. I feel hopeless and sad.

On this question of child abuse I have great clarity, as my thoughts and feelings are in alignment. My thoughts offer me information and logical conclusions. My feelings motivated me to write this post.

How to Sort Your Thoughts From Your Feelings: And Why it Matters

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website

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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2016). How to Sort Your Thoughts From Your Feelings: And Why it Matters. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 28 Jun 2016
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