Distinguishing Thoughts vs. Feelings

The following is a condensed version of an essay from Dr. Carrie Forrest, Ph.D. found on her site at http://drforrest.biz/resources/thoughtsvsfeelings.html

The word “feelings” is used frequently in conversation. If we’re looking at feelings and thoughts in relation to changing our behaviors or establishing new habits, we need to have an understanding of what “feelings” are.

Understanding “feelings” is like 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.

It may not occur to us that we even have feelings about something, because we’re so used to ignoring them.

Our thoughts are based on rules, beliefs, and judgments that we learn from others or personally invent based on our own experiences. Thoughts are not necessarily based on fact…actually, they are often not based in fact.

The tricky part is that our thoughts can occur like they ARE factual. This can add to the confusion or self-delusion.

While there are vast differences in our thoughts and belief systems, everybody, everywhere, experiences the same primary feelings; happiness, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, and hurt.

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.

“Good” and “bad” are not feelings. They are judgements about feelings. They are what we think about our feelings.

For example, maybe I lost something and I am feeling sad. Suppose someone asks me how I’m doing and I answer, “not good” or “badly”. What I am actually 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.

See the distinction?

Sadness is a normal response to loss. It is as natural to feel sad at times as it is to feel happy.

You can feel multiple conflicting things at the same time. You can feel happy and sad. You can feel intimidated and delighted. You can feel angry and attracted, or angry and loving. You can feel any number of and any combination of feelings all at once.

Below are some common feelings. 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)

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