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Understanding the Differences: Events, Thoughts, and Feelings

Updated: Jul 5


Understanding the connection between events, thoughts, and feelings is crucial for improving how we handle life's challenges. Let's dive deeper into these ideas, keeping it clear and straightforward.

  • Events: Events happen to us, like receiving feedback from a boss, feeling our heart race when nervous, or more significant events such as losing a job.

  • Thoughts: These are our ideas or interpretations about what happens. For example, if your boss gives you feedback, you might think, "I need to work harder," or "I'm not good enough."

  • Feelings: These are our emotional reactions to events and thoughts. It could be feeling anxious, sad, angry, happy, or any other emotion. How we feel often depends on how we think about what's happening.

In therapy, especially cognitive therapy, therapists help us understand how our thoughts affect our feelings and behaviors. Imagine two people receiving the same feedback from their boss. One might feel motivated to improve because they see it as a chance to grow, while another might feel anxious or upset because they interpret it as a criticism of their abilities.


Importance of Understanding Thoughts and Feelings:

To understand the importance of our thoughts and feelings, there are two main points to remember:

  • Thoughts and Feelings Are Distinct. It's essential to recognize that thoughts and feelings are different things. Thoughts are like the stories we tell ourselves about what's happening, while feelings are our internal reactions to those thoughts and events. For instance, thinking "I'm not good enough" might lead to feelings of sadness or frustration.

  • Thoughts Lead to Feelings (and Behavior). Our thoughts have a powerful influence on how we feel and how we behave. If we consistently think negatively about ourselves or our situations, it can lead to persistent feelings of anxiety, sadness, or anger. These feelings, in turn, can impact how we act and interact with others.


In Therapy Sessions:

  • Identifying Events: The therapist helps us pinpoint specific events or situations that trigger strong emotions.

  • Exploring Thoughts: They then guide us in exploring our thoughts or interpretations about those events. This step helps us understand whether our thoughts are realistic or whether they might be making things seem worse than they are.

  • Understanding Emotional Responses: By connecting our thoughts to our emotional responses, therapists help us see that we have the power to change how we feel by changing how we think. This insight is empowering because it shows that we can influence our emotional well-being through our thought patterns.


Therapist: "Can you tell me why you felt anxious at work?"

Client: "My boss told me I needed to fix my work."

Therapist: "So, you felt anxious because your boss gave you feedback?"

Client: "Yeah, I always think she doesn't like me when she does that."

Therapist: "Okay, it sounds like you're thinking she's criticizing you as a person, which makes you anxious. What if we look at it as just feedback to help you improve? Could there be another way to think about it?"

Here, the therapist helps the client see that their anxiety is linked to how they interpret their boss's feedback. By exploring different ways to think about it, the therapist helps the client feel less anxious and more confident.


Homework and Practice:

To reinforce what's learned in therapy, therapists often suggest things like keeping a journal to record events, thoughts, and associated feelings. This practice helps us notice patterns in our thinking and feelings, which can lead to more helpful ways of looking at situations.



Understanding how events, thoughts, and feelings are interconnected is the cornerstone of cognitive therapy. It's not just about coping with challenges but about developing resilience and emotional intelligence. By learning to recognize and challenge negative thought patterns, individuals can improve their emotional well-being and overall quality of life. Cognitive therapy equips us with valuable skills to manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors more effectively, paving the way for healthier relationships and greater personal growth.



Resource: Cognitive Therapy Techniques

Pages: 37 - 41

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