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A predominant theme working with clients is how our thoughts  play such a significant role in how we feel about our experiences.  For some, this seems quite obvious.  But it can be a difficult concept to grasp, and often it is because thoughts and feelings are so inextricably linked that their distinction can become muddled.  It’s common for us to explain our reactions to something by saying,  “Well, I just feel what I feel and I can’t change my feelings.”  In a manner of speaking, that’s true.  But it’s not completely accurate.

For example, I ask a client how they feel about working in a hostile work environment, and they answer, “I feel like no matter what I do, my boss criticizes me and doesn’t appreciate a thing.”   Actually, that statement reflects a thought, rather than  a feeling. Any time you can replace the word “feel” with a “think” word, you’re expressing a thought.

A more accurate statement would be this: “I think that no matter what I do, my boss criticizes me and, I believe he doesn’t appreciate a thing.  Therefore, I feel sad, angry and abused.”  The way we think about, or perceive a situation – this creates how we feel about it.  And in order to feel differently, we must think differently about it or do something to change the situation.

Why is this important?  Because each person is responsible for their own thinking.  When you are responsible for what you think, you are much more likely to act in your own best interest.  And if the way you are  thinking about something causes you to feel uncomfortable feelings, you are more likely to either change your thinking or change your situation  – or both.  If you become overwhelmed by the way you are feeling and believe that the feelings you are having are due to what someone else is doing, you’re more likely to want THEM to change so that you feel better.

Knowing that  what you think informs what you feel, allows you to ACT.  Because we have the ability to think whatever we want, we can have more control over our own feelings, and therefore our own actions.

So, what do YOU think?

– Kevin M. Ross, M.S., LMFT

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