From Heart to Mind: The Intricate Relationship Between Emotions and Thoughts

From Heart to Mind: The Intricate Relationship Between Emotions and Thoughts

It is argued that one unique feature we have as humans is the capacity for emotions. There may be dissent from those who believe that we are no different from animals because the latter also get angry, jealous, feel afraid, and care for their offspring. However, the controversy may simply be a matter of how emotions are defined.

Feelings vs Thoughts

The field of psychology is distinct in its perspective that human feelings have meanings for us (Leahy, 2020). We often mistake feelings for thoughts, and vice versa.

Thoughts are statements or beliefs about certain facts, whereas emotions are feelings one associates with that thought. So, you might think that the situation between you and another is bad (e.g., the fact is that you quarrel together frequently), but you might not feel sad because you do not care how the other person feels.

In contrast, you might think that things are not working out with someone else because of similar quarrelling but feel afraid and sad because that second person is someone special to you. Certain thoughts (“Nobody wants to be with me”) can elicit specific feelings (sadness), and specific feelings (sadness) can precede certain thoughts (“I will always be alone”).

We often experience multiple and/or conflicting emotions simultaneously towards an external source (e.g., feeling afraid but excited and angry, feeling pleasure but not liking what is happening).

We are more complex than mere thoughts or feelings

Furthermore, we can have thoughts about our feelings, such as a case when you think that your feeling of loneliness will last forever, or that you are weak for feeling dependent on a special someone. Similarly, we can also have feelings about feelings, such as a person who feels vulnerable or anxious about feeling lonely.

Thoughts about our feelings (e.g., confusion, thinking the other person does not care about us) may lead us to new feelings (e.g., despair, hopelessness) that may be even more upsetting than the original feeling (sadness).

Personally, I am heartened that people have emotions that go beyond mere flight-fight-freeze responses or animal instincts, and that cannot be reduced to algorithmic responses by artificial intelligence (e.g., having an online avatar girl/boyfriend). Our emotions sometimes cannot be even captured with mere words and even expressed in another form such as art or music or poetry. Human emotions are invariably complex and a real singular language we all ‘speak’ no matter which culture/society a person is from.  

Start by making sense of our emotions

As psychologists, we are trained to help you make sense of your thoughts, feelings, and responses.

You may have difficulty distinguishing your thoughts from emotions, but we can help you become more familiar with your emotions and better at coping with them. We can teach you to respect your emotions (e.g., to acknowledge them, have self-compassion for having those emotions, and to feel validated), while recognising that they are real but transient in nature.

For example, you may feel anxious, but if you become aware of it and accept your anxiety as part of a normal response to what you are facing at the moment, you may become less anxious about your anxiety. Feeling anxious or angry does not mean that you have to act accordingly as well, because that behaviour is a separate response you have a say in. So, we can help you unpack the triggers of emotions that cause problems in your life and the consequences you experience that might contribute to a disturbing pattern of behaviour you find yourself stuck in.

There may even be certain unhelpful rules or mindsets learned from past experiences or during childhood that confuse your knowledge of objective facts from your thoughts as well. Ultimately, we will enable you not to fear your feelings (e.g., conflicting and ambivalent feelings) but own them, and guide you to live according to your own personal values and goals that will be associated personal emotional experiences that are more congruent with them. Such skills will undoubtedly help you better connect with people important to you and live a fuller, open, and meaningful life by experiencing a diversity of emotions. After all, one cannot know joy without also knowing pain, experience fulfilment without previous disappointment, nor be courageous in the absence of fear and a real threat.

About The Author

Steven Tan is an experienced Clinical Psychologist in Singapore, and is a registered psychologist and approved supervisor with the Singapore Psychological Society. Steven practices at Mind Care Therapy Suites, working closely with our psychiatrists to provide comprehensive and personable care.