Connections Between Thoughts and Feelings

  • Time to read: 9 min.

There is a connection between thoughts and feeling as well as our behaviors. When we understand these connections, it can be the start of a better life. Let’s break it down into parts then connect the two for a clear picture of how understanding the thought/feeling connection can change your life.

What Are Thoughts?

Thoughts interpret events or situations in your life. Your thoughts are like an inner dialogue of remarks or comments that you make to yourself.

Thoughts are what you may believe to be true. You may think you are a failure or that nobody likes you or that you are the best thing since sliced bread. You may think you are unappreciated, or that your future is hopeless. Often thoughts are not entirely based on reality. In some cases, they can be a reaction to relatively minor incidents due to major or minor life experiences.

Our life experiences are what lead us to have beliefs in which we navigate and function in the world.  Some life experiences leave a more profound imprint on our soul than others.

So events that happened at a younger time can influence our thoughts in the present. The thought goes something like this: “If something bad happened before, something similar would happen again.”  The thought is there to protect us, doing what thought does, bringing something to our awareness. 

However, if we become caught up in these thoughts that historically were true because something terrible happened to us, but the situation we are in now is different, we can become immobilized with fear and anxiety.

What about a positive thought? Some people have driven cars for decades, and never had an accident. The thought is, “I am a great driver; I have had no accidents in the past, which means none can occur in the future.”

With this thought firmly planted, they continue to drive in ways that are not safe.  They drive fast as they always have and never come to a full stop at a stop sign. The thought is real that they have never had an accident to date will not predict that they will never have an accident.

Whether it is a minor or major incident or a good or bad experience, our thoughts today can be affected. We are either telling ourselves something that is not true or something that is not true today. Our thoughts generally interpret everything as either good or bad. For our thoughts to be productive, they must reflect reality in the present.

What Are Feelings?

To understand our feelings, we need to understand the cause-and-effect relationship between our thoughts and our emotions. Emotions describe the way we react to our thoughts. When we have had a negative experience in the past, it can affect our thoughts in situations we are in today.

My older brother was very popular. He had many friends and a lot of activities. As I was much younger, I was seldom included. Whenever he went out with his friends to have fun, I was left behind. This awful feeling of being left out came back when I moved into a new neighborhood.

The neighbors often had barbecues, played cards, and went out together for various activities. The feeling of being excluded was overwhelming. I was often annoyed by the thought that nobody liked me and could not see any particular reason that I would feel shunned.

A change occurred for me when I realized the connection and began to put it into perspective. I reviewed my thoughts, and I realized that my neighbors neither liked nor disliked me. They had known each other for years but had not had the chance to get to know me.

So instead of believing the thought that nobody liked me and instead of waiting for them to extend friendship, I took the initiative. I invited my neighbors over for coffee and got to know them and started to feel accepted.

When I connected my feelings to their source, which was related to me not being included when I was younger, they were easier to understand. I learned the feelings of sadness and loneliness I was experiencing were real, but these feelings did not apply to the current situation.

The feelings of sadness and loneliness I was experiencing were related to the distant past. Similar to thoughts, emotions need to reflect present reality if they are to be productive.

What Are Negative Thoughts And Feelings?

Thoughts take place in your mind, and feelings take place in your body.

It is easy to come up with examples of negative thoughts and emotions: “I’m not attractive enough;” “Everything I do, I do wrong;” “There is no point in trying because nothing will ever change.” These thoughts are there to try and protect us, but it can be a self-defeating prophecy.

When we label thoughts and feelings as unfavorable, we are telling ourselves those thoughts and feelings are bad and wrong. Instead of understanding and learning from our inner dialogues, we may try to avoid our thoughts and feelings, or try to force our views to change. We can become less in touch with ourselves and less accepting of ourselves.

Everything Is Connected!!

Our thoughts and feelings are connected, and so are our bodies and our behaviors.

Stephen Porges developed the polyvagal theory. This theory describes the involuntary responses by the nervous systems to stimuli. In cases of real or perceived danger, this theory can explain an acute stress response. As it is the most primitive response, we can also refer to it as an automatic response, similar to a wild animal in a life-threatening situation.

The typical responses to danger are fight-or-flight. They either defend themselves or run away. In some cases, neither answer is a viable option. The third response is freezing or playing dead. The purpose of this involuntary response is to convince the predator that its prey is dead, so it will lose interest and go away.

While an average person rarely encounters such extreme situations, we often experience the same safety-and-danger connections in our everyday lives. Our bodies experience involuntary reactions to the individuals around us. From a person’s tone of voice or the expression on his face, we may feel safe and calm or anxious and afraid.

These involuntary reactions can affect our behavior. Depending on the situation, we may behave in a friendly or confident manner, or our behavior may reflect anger or fear. Our response can affect the way we interact with other people at work, our close relationships, and with strangers to us in our lives.

In other situations, the mind-body connection can result in psychosomatic problems. Although it is unintentional, a person can actually “make themself sick.” Chest pain, erectile dysfunction, cramps, headaches, fatigue, diarrhea, and nausea are typical examples of how your thoughts and feelings can affect your body. In extreme cases, individuals can become incapacitated entirely without any medical reason.

Even on a minor end of the scale, our thoughts and feelings have a significant role in our everyday lives. We need to understand the connection so we can have happier, healthier lives.

Thoughts, Feelings, and Mindfulness

When we practice mindfulness, we let everything but the present moment drift away. We focus on what is occurring in our minds and our bodies. We notice the sensations in our bodies, our feelings, and our thoughts. Our goal is to be fully aware and fully accepting of these characteristics.

When we are practicing mindfulness, we must make a point of not labeling or judging any of the thoughts, feelings, or sensations that occur. We should not try to make negative thoughts or feelings go away, or turn them into thoughts and feelings that we consider positive. Rather than judging them as negative, we should accept them as they are. Every one of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations are part of our experience in the present moment.

When we are experiencing the present moment, this moment is all that exists. Thoughts and feelings about the past and the future are irrelevant. We can fully live in the moment by paying attention, on purpose.

Slowly and carefully breathe in and exhale.  Try not analyze what you are thinking and feeling. If you experience a thought or feeling that truly bothers you, mentally acknowledge and thank the thought for providing you with information to make a decision. Accept the thought then in your mind, see it drift away.

Mindfulness can help you understand yourself and relieve stress. It can also be an opportunity to make changes in your life. When you are not actively meditating, take some time to think about what you have learned. When you practice mindfulness, you can accept what is, but this does not mean you cannot change your life.

While mindfulness means experiencing the present moment, you may find thoughts and feelings that are having adverse effects on your life. Thoughts and feelings can be changed, and this will make a difference in your life.

Our thoughts can cause emotions, and our emotions can cause thoughts. Without mindfulness, it can be a painful cycle. A better course of action is to determine the origins of our thoughts and feelings.

We can ask ourselves if a specific thought or feeling is relevant to the present moment, or if it is related to something unresolved from the past. We can ask ourselves if a thought or feeling is in proportion to a new situation, or if we are making too much of the case.

The process is not nearly as complicated as it may sound. When you are practicing mindfulness, meditate on full acceptance of everything you experience. Take everything as it is, without labeling, judging, or analyzing. Later, take the opportunity to put it all into perspective.

When you look back on a meditation session, you will start to have questions. You may wonder why a specific thought came up or why you had a certain feeling. Perhaps you had a reaction or a bodily sensation that you want to explore. These are some examples of how you can benefit.

Mindfulness meditation can help you focus, balance, and accept. It can also provide opportunities for you to see what you want to change. You do not need to hold onto unresolved issues from your past, overreact to minor difficulties in the present, or allow negative thoughts and feelings to control your life. You can start by eliminating the “negative” label, and be fully accepting of every thought and feeling that you experience. When you later acknowledge specific characteristics as interfering with your life, you can explore the options to make changes.

There can be even more benefits to mindfulness. In the past, it was considered a cliché for people to say, “I don’t know who I am!” or “I don’t know what I want in life!” These days, though, more people take these expressions seriously. While mindfulness can help you understand the connection between your thoughts and feelings, it can also help you know yourself.

When you start with your thoughts and feelings, you can understand and accept yourself as you are today. You can see if there are any characteristics that you would like to change. It can be the beginning of personal growth and a lifelong adventure. It can help you decide what you want in life. You can set and work toward goals, and make your dreams come true.

A Simple Way To Happiness

If you are like most people these days, you do not have much free time. You are so busy with your children, your job, and outside activities that you pay little attention to your thoughts and feelings. Your thoughts and feelings may be affecting your relationships, your ability to have fun, and even your health. You may not have realized there is a connection.

The connection is essential. The thoughts and feelings you experience affect you in so many ways. Whether you have a troubled relationship with a family member, suffer from depression, or feel unsure of yourself and your abilities, your thoughts, and feelings play a role.

If you have a busy life, you may not be accustomed to living in the moment. You are reacting to whatever comes along, even if it seems irrational or destructive. You may not know what to do, even when your reactions are counterproductive or make problems worse.

Living in the moment starts with mindfulness. When you consider every thought and feeling you experience as valid and accept each one without judgment, you are on your way to an understanding that you have never had before. You will feel a fantastic sensation of calmness in your body and your mind. Your physical and mental health will improve, constant worry, anxiety, and stress will reduce.

For more information on mindfulness see the post Mindfulness How You Can Create a Better Life

Final Thoughts

Negative thoughts and feelings do not need to have a hold on us. We can change how we see and experience our thoughts and feelings.

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