Differentiating Between Emotions & Thoughts


Do you have difficulty separating your thoughts from your emotions? If you do, you may blame others for how you feel and behave. You may also feel responsible for the emotions and behaviour of others.


If we have difficulty separating our thoughts from our emotions, and believe that outside influences are responsible for how we feel and behave, we may be undifferentiated.


If undifferentiated, we become flooded with emotions and blame other people for causing our feelings.


You can free yourself from emotional dependence on others by taking responsibility for your own emotional well-being and allow others to take responsibility for theirs.


We Are Responsible for What We Need

We are responsible for what we need and want. Too often we try to turn what we have found into what we need, rather than continuing to search for what we really want. We sell ourselves out, and lose our self-respect in the process.


Our Emotions Are Not Caused by Events

In order to break free from our dependence on others, we must understand that our emotions are not caused by what happens; but by what we think about what happens.


It’s not that we shouldn’t have thoughts and emotions about what happens, it’s that accepting responsibly for how we feel and think allows us to accept that others do not control our responses.


When we accept responsibility for ourselves, we experience our emotions without escalating them. We don’t accuse others of causing us to feel or behave the way we do. We know our thoughts aren’t necessarily true, so we challenge them. We control our impulses and don’t behave reactively.


Our Thoughts Are Not Facts

When our thoughts and emotions get jumbled together, we can’t separate what we feel from what we think. We assume that our feelings prove our thoughts are true.


If we are hurt, we assume what someone did was hurtful. If we are angry, we assume what someone did was wrong. If we feel disrespected, we assume what someone did was disrespectful. None of these assumptions are necessarily true.


While our feelings are always factual, our thoughts are not.


DBT Skill: Observe, Describe, Participate

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) helps people learn to understand and regulate their emotions by building Four Key Skills: Basic Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Relationship Skills.


We can slow down our thoughts and emotions by dealing with them one at a time. The core mindfulness skill of “Observe, Describe, and Participate” helps differentiate emotions from thoughts.

“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

To learn more about DBT, or if you are interested in counselling services, please visit Validity Counselling's homepage,


Author: Jenny DeReis

Jenny is CEO and therapist at Validity Counselling in Prince George, BC. She has a Master's Degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary.


Jenny has intensive and advanced training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) from Dr. Charlie Swansen, author of several books on DBT . She has also received DBT training from the Behavior Tech Institute, and from DBT expert Sherri Van Dijk.