5 thoughts on “I Think, therefore I Feel?

  • May 8, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    I basically agree with all this, but do have difficulty with the basic separation of emotions and thoughts. If one takes all cognitive content away from an emotion it seems like only a physical sensation is left. An emotion seems to be composed of both physical sensations and cognitive judgments. If I say ‘I feel like I no-one will ever love me’, a CBT practitioner will point out that that is not a feeling, it is a judgment, and I agree that if I get rid of the thought (give it a logical critique) that the sadness will also go. But, I still believe that the sadness-that-no-one-will-ever-love-me is qualitatively different to the sadness-that-my-bird-has died.

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    • May 8, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      Snow Queen–

      Very interesting point. Here’s what it makes me think: emotions do feel like responses to situations. If they are completely without context they contract down to bodily sensation, like you say. That somatic feeling may be quite strong, almost begging to be explained. So, in my own experience, when the emotion of sadness comes over me, it feels a certain way and seems to pull sad thoughts out of my mind. Those thoughts, of course, then deepen the sadness. If it were possible to feel *only* the sinking visceral sensation without the felt implication of grief or sadness, it’s arguable whether it would truly be emotion. But to say that emotion comes with meaning is not the same as it being cognitive. The meaning can be related to verbal thought in only the loosest way. A person who has lost a spouse will have thoughts, images, and memories of the beloved, and these will play into the emotion of grief. But the grief stands on its own and is felt even at moments relatively free of mental content. For instance, there will be a deep sensation of loss even in the midst of mindfulness meditation carried nearly to total cessation of verbal cognition. I guess the point is that content is a larger concept than thought. In the case of grief, content might be better thought of as context: the context of recent loss leads to sad emotions independent of distinct thought. But, again, the two can drive one another. And it is that fact that this essay is meant to highlight. To the extent that we can prevent vicious cycles of emotion-thought-emotion, we can gain a little space, a little peace.

      Thank you very much for your comment; it helped me clarify my understanding.

      –Will

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  • May 8, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Good explanation, thank you. And I agree, sometimes sadness comes over me too and then I actually can’t think my way out of it. The best thing to do is become mindful of my sensory perceptions and simply accept my present somatic state and cease thinking. In cases like this the emotion causes the thoughts rather than the other way round – as classical CBT had it.

    Something else puzzling is that I used to get periods of extreme anxiety – it felt mostly somatic, like a horrible feeling over my skin, particularly my back. Nevertheless, it was more than this ‘sensation’ on the skin. It stopped me from functioning and would almost paralyse me. But, I was never able to pinpoint any anxious thoughts that triggered these states. They just seemed to come over me. And, my mind would become full of static – like it was electrified, even without anxiety-maintaining thoughts.

    Also, I used to meditate as a teenager to try cope with my anxious and depressive states. I gave it up because I would reach a state free from verbal-cognitive processes and yet the mood of fright or devastation or both would come upon me in a particularly intense way. I’v started meditation again – 15 years later, and it still sometimes happens but not so frequently. Also I am now in therapy so I am not so alone in it all!

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    • May 8, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      Snow Queen–

      It appears we’re on the same page. Your ‘periods of extreme anxiety’ sound like episodes akin to panic attacks. Panic is a good example of what we’re discussing here. It’s certainly worsened by catastrophic thinking, but it usually starts of its own accord or in response to an external trigger. The somatic sensations calls up cognitions like, “I must be having a heart attack,” or “I think I’m dying.” These thoughts probably wouldn’t arise absent the feelings of tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and so on. It seems pretty clear that non-cognitive processes are running the show. Similarly, the cutaneous sensations you experienced certainly do not sound like perceptions likely to have been caused by verbal thought, though I can imagine they triggered some worried questioning!

      Interesting ideas to explore. Thanks for sharing your experience. And yes, meditation’s abilities to increase peace and even usher in bliss are good motivators!

      –Will

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  • May 8, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Just wanted to clarify that usually meditation evokes either peacefulness or a mild euphoria in me (which is why I do it!)

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