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Is That a Feeling or a Thought?

Updated on February 12, 2015
Am I having a Feeling or a Thought?
Am I having a Feeling or a Thought? | Source

But I've Got Feel in my Sentence

Most people think that if they are using the word “feel” in a sentence, then they are talking about their feelings. For example:

  • I feel like no one understands me.
  • I feel as though I am doing more than my co-workers.
  • I feel as if I am going crazy with all I have to do in my life.

However, if you examine the sentences, each one is referring to an opinion, thought or assumption, not a feelings. Whatever follows, “I feel like”, “I feel as though”, and “I feel as if” is going to be a reflection, belief or concept.

Unfortunately, not one of these sentences has described how the person feels. What is missing in each sentence is a feeling. Feelings will fit into these five categories:

  • Mad
  • Sad
  • Glad
  • Bad – (typically guilty, jealous, envious, etc.)
  • Scared – there’s not a rhyming for this one, sorry

It helps if you narrow your feeling words down to these five and then expand to the degree of the primary category. For instance, mad might be irritated, put upon, frustrated, or rage.


Concepts, notions, ideas are your thoughts about the subject or person
Concepts, notions, ideas are your thoughts about the subject or person | Source

Original Sentences With the Thought and a Feeling Added

  • I think no one understands me, and I feel sad and fearful about misunderstandings.
  • I think I am doing more than my co-workers, and I feel manipulated and undervalued.
  • I think I am going crazy with all I have to do for work, family, and myself, and I feel stressed, and frazzled.

Now the sentences have both the thought and the feeling.

You will know that you are talking about your feelings if you process them from the five general categories, either the simple word or some degree of them. You'll be aware of talking about your thoughts if you state your concept.

Know what your audience should be hearing from you.  Is it your feelings or your thoughts that matter most in your discussion?
Know what your audience should be hearing from you. Is it your feelings or your thoughts that matter most in your discussion? | Source

Distinguishing the Difference will Help You Communicate Better

Learning the difference between feelings and thoughts can help you communicate better, and others understand you more. For those individuals in recovery, it is critical to distinguish the two.

Recovery is learning how to think differently and learning, in many cases, how to articulate or express your feelings, especially those that have prompted your use in the past.

Shame, guilt, anger, and unresolved issues that prompted negative emotions for people are sometimes the excuse that people gave themselves for their use.

We use feelings as a pretext or excuse for our use because drinking and using drugs typically numbed these feelings. We might have been able to ignore or suppress them in our use, but we will have to face them in our recovery.

Old feelings did not go away; they were just stored in your emotional memory. Unfortunately, they don’t tend to come back in an orderly fashion in early recovery. Logically then, an individual in recovery must learn to talk about, process, and deal with their feelings.

Addiction is like the closed jack-in-the-box - it hides and contains our emotions
Addiction is like the closed jack-in-the-box - it hides and contains our emotions | Source
Not using drugs and alcohol let the feelings out - sometimes without making sense
Not using drugs and alcohol let the feelings out - sometimes without making sense | Source

Dealing with Feelings

Take away the drugs and alcohol, and the numbed or suppressed feelings come flooding back, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

Some people find themselves laughing when nothing is funny to others, or crying for no particular reason. Often, they feel embarrassed and think something is wrong with them for having "inappropriate feelings".

However, it's common in early recovery. Just don't waste time judging these feelings as wrong. It is important that you not judge them but realize that they are probably just an old feeling able to surface now that you are not using.

This attitude can make it easier to accept them. Most of us experienced the "roller coaster of emotions"; up one minute and down the next.

Think about all the stored emotions from our use, they are rather like a jack-in-the-box; they are all held down only by the mechanics of the box – or in the case of addiction, our use. There is no rhyme or reason for the suppressed or numbed feelings popping up. When you can accept that some of your feelings will just bubble up it is easier to deal with them.

However, as Sigmund Freud said, “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”

What Happens To Feelings When You Take Away The Drugs And Alcohol?

It can be a time of confusion, and your feelings can seem overwhelming. These reactions to the roller coaster are typical and predictable for most people in early recovery. It will get easier to deal with these up and down, seemingly inappropriate emotions if you:

  1. Understand that your emotions will be “all over the map.”
  2. Know that the ups and downs will lessen with time
  3. Learn to process thoughts and feelings as the distinct aspects that they are, and as they are happening
  4. What are you sharing? What are they hearing? Make sure you are giving the facts, but also the feelings.

Learn to Claim the Feelings as Your Own

People often talk about something “making” them feel a certain way. When you use others to make you feel, you remove your responsibility for your feelings and puts the blame or responsibility for how you feel on others.

  1. When you put this burden on others, you hold them accountable for what you are feeling.
  2. You can then give yourself an excuse for why you feel a certain way
  3. You lose control over how you feel because others made you feel something.

Taking this position creates a victim posture or a manipulative cycle. Break this habit by acknowledging that they are your feelings, independent of others. You can state what you feel about what someone did or did not do without holding them responsible for what you feel.

Feelings happen within; they are only influenced by the actions of others outside you.

People do not make you feel anything.  Your feelings may be a reaction to what they have said or done, but they are your feelings
People do not make you feel anything. Your feelings may be a reaction to what they have said or done, but they are your feelings | Source

Your Feelings Are Influenced By Others

You can still react to the actions of others. It is simply a way of acknowledging that when someone did or did not do something that you had feelings about their action or lack of action, but you are claiming the feelings as your own.

A less blaming way of stating how you feel in relation to what someone else has done or not done is to state it as, “When you did that, I felt.” It lets you state what they did, but how you felt.

Taking responsibility for your feelings is empowering. You can choose how to feel in any given situation and not be dependent on how they made you feel.

Thoughts, Opinions, and Feelings May Not Be Reality

Learning to process your ideas, beliefs and assumptions, along with your feelings, as the separate and distinct aspects that they are, makes it easier to determine if your thoughts need changing or your feelings are the problem.

For example, you walk into a recovery supportive meeting, and you are late. You’re late because your babysitter had a flat tire that morning. You meekly sit down, wondering what you've missed in the discussions.

You feel guilty but glad that getting the tire fixed was simple even though it cost you an hour of time. You also feel guilty because you haven’t made as many meetings as you usually do because you've picked up some extra shifts at work to provide camp for your children in the summer. You think you have made a less self-centered decision to pick up the shifts and you feel proud of this new behavior.

They Have Their Thoughts and Feelings

There are others there who may have entirely different thoughts, opinions, assumptions and feelings about you coming in late.

  1. John thinks you are rude for being late; he decides that you don’t value the meetings, and he is annoyed at your disruption of the discussion.
  2. Susie is just relieved to see you as she didn't see you for a couple of weeks and thought you might have relapsed.
  3. Mary doesn’t even know you, so she just thinks you've got on a great pair of shoes and wonders if she should ask you after the meeting where you got them.

Did this article help you see the difference in feelings and thoughts?

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Then There is The True Reality

Every individual, you included, have different thoughts and feelings about the same experience. Different perceptions of what is going on, or what you and others think about something, and individual or isolated thoughts and feelings about a situation or person rarely tell the whole story.

To get a clear picture of the "reality" of this scenario, each person would need to tell their truth, and others process it and then come to a consensus. Rarely do we take the time to be that thorough, we just come to conclusions and have feelings about a situation.

As the author, Fred Ward says, “If some woman tells me how she feels about something, my immediate assumption is that she wants an answer, or that she wants me to solve her problem.

In fact, all she wants to do is share, or show how she feels.”

What are you sharing? What are they hearing? Make sure you are giving the facts, but also the feelings.   Know what your audience should be hearing from you.
What are you sharing? What are they hearing? Make sure you are giving the facts, but also the feelings. Know what your audience should be hearing from you. | Source

Using IMHO To Your Advantage

IMHO or In My Humble Opinion has become such a catchphrase on the internet, but even it has different connotations for people.

  • Some claim it’s used if you are cowardly in your beliefs
  • Others see it as condescending as they already know it’s just your opinion
  • Still others see it as a humbling notation

Regardless, it can help you start distinguishing and reminding yourself that you are having a thought. You don't have to preface each thought, opinion or assumption with this phrase, but to factor it before you speak. It will alert you that what you are about to talk about or share is your opinion, thought or assumption, not your feelings.

Is it your feelings or your thoughts that matter most in your discussion?

Remember to distinguish your thoughts from your feelings
Remember to distinguish your thoughts from your feelings | Source

Remember: Differentiate Your Feelings from Your Thoughts

It will take practice to start phrasing your speech differently, and you will find that you continue to use thinking statements instead of feeling statements for a while.

Make the effort to distinguish them, and even correct yourself when you forget. Ultimately, you will remember to include both your thoughts and your feelings in your statements. An easy way to start phrasing thoughts and feelings are:

“When ____ happened, I felt _____

“I thought _____ when _____ happened.”

Stating both the feeling and the thought helps you differentiate them and lets people know which you are talking about in any situation. Making these distinctions will assist you in the process and more efficiently deal with early recovery emotions and thoughts.

Learning to separate your thoughts from your feelings means you will know how to resolve, discuss or modify your feelings or your thoughts to ensure your continued recovery.

Tag Line: Writing, Sharing and Growing Together

Authored by Marilyn L. Davis for the express use at North House, 1990-2011; copyright transferred to TIERS, 2012

Registration Number: TXu 1-797-964: No portions of this may be reprinted, copied, or used without permission of the author or acknowledgment of authorship


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    • MDavisatTIERS profile imageAUTHOR

      Marilyn L Davis 

      5 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you for your comment. In responding, I would like you to know that I think your observation about getting them confused is very common. Had I not had a mentor 24 years ago who was a stickler for defining if it was a thought or feeling, I know I would not pay attention to the difference, either. I'm happy and pleased that I gave you something to think about as well.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is interesting food for thought. Talking about differentiating between thoughts and feelings is very helpful. I think that I get them confused sometimes. It helps to think about that you want to say, and the purpose of the information being given, before speaking. As a rule, most people just say the first thing that comes to mind rather than thinking about what they are saying. Thanks for helping me with this issue.


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