Key 5. Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.

 Think back to the lesson my Uncle Geoff taught me, described in the introduction to Part 2. He asked me how I felt about circus lions being caged and how I felt about my football team losing. I had given him my thoughts on the matters. He told me I needed to distinguish between my thoughts and my feelings when I spoke, and avoid confusing what I was thinking with what I was feeling. That way, my life would run more smoothly.

When you say: ‘I feel —‘ describe a feeling. When you are about to describe a feeling, preface it with ‘I feel’. 
 When you say, ‘I think —‘ make sure you give your thoughts. When you are about to express an opinion, preface it with ‘I think’.

Practising this skill helps us to distinguish our feelings from our thoughts, and that grounds us. Consider these statements:
‘I feel we should look for another way.’ (Wrong)
‘I think we should look for another way.’ (Correct.)
‘I feel frustrated. I think we should look for another way.’ (Correct.)
‘I feel I’m unappreciated.’ (Wrong.)
‘I think I’m unappreciated, and feel hurt and disappointed as a result.’ (Correct.)
‘I feel you are not listening to me.’ (Wrong.)
‘I think you are not listening to me, and I feel irritated with that.’ (Correct.)

Jan: ‘I want to break up. How do you feel about that, Bill?’
Bill: ‘I don’t think we should break up.’ (Incorrect. That’s a thought. Before Bill expresses his thoughts on the matter he should address Jan’s question by telling her what he feels. Try again, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I don’t feel anything; I’m in shock.’ (Bill is not in shock. He’s exaggerating, and indicating that he isn’t aware of what is going on inside him. He needs to search himself. Try again, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I feel awful.’  (That’s an improvement, but Bill needs to be more specific. He needs to find words that describe precisely how he feels.)
Bill: ‘This is terrible.’ (Incorrect. He’s expressing his opinion again, rather than stating how he feels. Have another go, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I feel terrible.’  (That’s a bit better. He is describing a feeling, though he is still not being specific.)
Bill: ‘I feel hurt. Frightened. Anxious.’  (Now Bill is getting the hang of it!)
Bill: ‘I feel nauseous.’  (Good. Bill is also recognising what his body is feeling.)
Bill: ‘I feel surprise, hurt, betrayal, anger, humiliation . . .’ (Good. It might sound like a shopping list, but by labelling his emotions Bill is becoming aware of them. He can now start to deal with them, and think things through.)

When Bill got it right he:
* expressed his feelings rather than his thoughts
* used the word ‘feel’ to describe his feelings
* allowed himself to feel vulnerable by expressing what he felt
* labelled his emotion
* looked for other emotions he was feeling and labelled them too.
All in all, Bill did well. But Jan still dumped him!

Practise distinguishing between thoughts and feelings by naming at least six thoughts you might think, and six emotions you might feel, in each of the following scenarios.

Example: You find a rabbit with its leg caught in a rabbit trap.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
        I think . . .                                                     I feel . . .
. . . it’s in pain.                                             concern, anger, flustered, outrage, distressed

This shouldn’t happen.
Who would do this?                                        I feel in my body . . .
Will it be alright?                                   a knot in my stomach, tense, nauseous,

How do I cook a rabbit?                        goosebumps,

Your turn now. You discover your best friend has been stealing money.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
I think . . .                                                               I feel . . .

A friend tells you she is pregnant, and is happy about it.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
 I think . . .                                                   I feel . . .

In short, get into the habit of differentiating between your thoughts and feelings.

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2 Responses to Key 5. Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.

  1. D B says:

    Hi Mr B, thanks for your page, its really interesting. Strange how I’m in Montreal now but originally from Melbourne too… Anyway, this page in particular was helpful for me, but it assumes a certain amount of self-reflection and emotional stability and intelligence. I have just split up with a partner who had Borderline. For him, the shame of his emotions was so great that one way to help him was to reflect back his emotions and normalise them. For example: “You sound angry, that’s how anyone would feel in your situation”. Then when he had calmed down, we could reflect on whether his behaviour was helping him or not. If I just ignored his emotions, he would ramp them up until I reacted. Sometimes a sympathetic reflection of someone’s emotions may help, not telling them how they should feel, but understanding it. Many borderline people feel as if others are angry at them, or they feel ashamed of their emotions (deep shame is part of the issue). I am only just learning how to name and own my emotions and not rationalise them with thoughts. If you are interested, this is a really good resource on different personality behaviours.

    • Mr Bashful says:

      Hello! Yes, I guess my material does require a certain amount of self-reflection, but I’m actually trying to ‘teach’ self-reflection. It’s a big part of the book. However, it’s hard to teach something like that. I’m hoping the exercises help. (Though who actually does such exercises?)
      I like the way you reflected your companion’s emotions and normalised them. I wrote this book assuming the reader won’t have someone to assist them, so I can’t include that technique. Besides, I’m not qualified in such matters. I touch on what we can say to a companion in the section on relationships, but the hints there are for generic living, not for particular situations. A good book to write would be: ‘How to assist a Troubled Companion’.
      I looked at the suggested site. Yes, it lists behavioural problems I hadn’t heard of. Interesting. In this book I have avoided such territory, for two reasons. One: As I say, I’m not qualified. I wouldn’t dare try to help troubled people without a thorough and professional understanding of the subject. Two: The book is more a philosophy book about what makes a person happy in general. The umpteen keys followed as a natural consequence.
      You have just parted with your partner. I wish you my very best wishes in this new chapter of your life. Indeed, both of you.
      Warm regards,
      Mr B.

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