Dr. Carrie L. Forrest, Ph.D.

Thoughts vs. Feelings

The word "feelings" is used frequently.  Changing certain behaviors require the understanding of this word, as understanding the meaning of traffic lights.  Like traffic lights feelings tell us when to stop, when to yield, and when to go.  Our feelings give us directions and warnings.  If we don't heed our feelings, we miss out on vital information.  Ignoring our feelings is like driving without paying attention to traffic lights and signs.  Many of us live this way, without accessing our feelings.  How do we do it?  We rely on our thoughts.  Although we may be very intelligent, with highly developed mental skills, when our minds are cut off from our feelings, our thoughts can become a liability.
Without crucial information from  your feelings, your thoughts can mislead you.  For example, you may feel physically hungry but not eat because you think you are fat or think you have to wait until noon.  So you end up depriving yourself of nutrition when you actually need it.  Or you may feel angry when someone mistreats you but not tell anyone because you think you're making too much of it, or because you think you'll only make them mad.  In these cases, though the intent is to make yourself feel better, by relying on your thoughts and ignoring your feelings, you never solve the problems, and you end up feeling worse.

Thoughts are based on rules, beliefs, and judgments that we learn from others or personally invent.  They are not necessarily based on fact.  Feelings occur naturally and are experienced physically.  while there are vast differences in peoples thoughts and belief systems, everybody, everywhere, experiences the same primary feelings; happiness, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, and hurt.  Sometimes feelings are created by incorrect thinking.  But they are still your feelings and need to be acknowledged and attended to.  Feelings are not right or wrong, they just exist and need to be expressed in healthy ways.

How do you tell the difference between thoughts and feelings?

Your feelings manifest in your body as physiological experiences and reactions.  For example, when you are afraid, your stomach area may tighten, your heart rate may increase, or your whole body may stiffen.  These physical experiences tell  you that you are afraid.  Likewise, when you are angry, your face may get flushed, and you may clench your jaw and or your fists.

"Good" and "bad" are not feelings.  They are judgements about feelings.  They are what we think about our feelings.  Lets say I am feeling sad because I lost something.  Suppose someone asks me how i am doing and I say, "Bad>"  What I am saying, then ,both to the other person as well as to myself, is that i think my sad feeling is bad and that I should not feel that way.  But sadness is neither good nor bad.  Sadness is a normal response to loss.  It is as natural to feel sad at times as it is to feel happy.  There are no good or bad feelings.  Feelings just are.  And did you know you could feel happy and sad at the same time?  You can feel any number of, and any combination of feelings all at once.  You can even feel angry and loving in the same moment.

Below are some common feelings to refer to .  Each feeling is followed by variations within the same category.

1.  Happy (peaceful, joyous, excited)
2.  Sad (grieving, disappointed)
3.  Angry (mad, frustrated, annoyed
4.  Ashamed (embarrassed, uncomfortable)
5.  Proud (strong, righteous)
6.  Afraid (nervous, anxious, terrified)
7.  Loved (appreciated, cherished)
8.  Loving (compassionate, accepting)
9.  Hurt (wronged, victimized)
10.  Lonely (empty, isolated)
11.  Bored (indifferent, apathetic)


1.  Tired (sleepy, exhausted)
2.  Energetic (hyper, restless)
3.  Sick (achy, feverish)
4.  Full (satisfied, stuffed)
5.  Hungry (craving, starving)
6.  Pained (sore, injured)
7.  Sexual (sensual, longing)