Trauma Tuesday: Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions are NOT the same

Trauma Tuesday: I will be posting some common issues related to trauma every Tuesday.  If you would like to know more, comment below or seek out a seasoned trauma therapist.

The Basics:  What is the difference between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

If I had a dollar for every time I have asked the question “what were you feeling?” and get the response “I thought…” I would be very wealthy.  But, it is understandable.  Most people have never been taught to distinguish between thoughts and feelings, so they have trouble understanding that they are honestly different experiences. 

Many also don’t know that thoughts and feelings are NOT directly linked to actions.  We often feel/think one way about a situation and act the opposite to what the feelings and thoughts direct us to do.  For example, driving on I95, many people have thoughts of doing some pretty awful things to the other cars on the road and may feel genuine anger, but NEVER act on that.  Thoughts don’t always lead to feelings and feelings often don’t lead to actions. 

But, I digress.  Let’s clarify:

Thoughts happen in our head/mind.  They have words and/or images attached to them.

* “I feel sad” is a thought.

Emotions happen in the body.  That is exactly why they are called “feelings.”  When asked “how do you feel?” what I am asking is “what is happening in your body?” 

*“My chest feels tight, my eyes are watering, and my throat is constricting” is a feeling/emotion that we often label as “sad.”

Actions are things we do that others can see or creates a change internally (mindfully moving from one thought to another is an action, but let’s not get in the weeds!) 
* Saying: “I don’t want to talk about my feelings.  I’m out of here!” is an action.

Thoughts, feelings, and actions can happen in succession in really clearly delineated steps, or can be a jumble that happens so quickly, you might not even be aware of the thought or the feelings or the actions.  So, often many people don’t even know they are having a thought that is coupled with a feeling.  It can get complicated, but it is useful to be able to notice where the distress is happening when it occurs.

Is this new information for you or are you an old hand at understanding your feelings and thoughts and actions (or lack of action)?  Comment below.


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