Events Don’t Cause Feelings

You may believe that negative events can lead you to ‘feel’ a certain way, whether that’s the rain making you feel miserable, or somebody’s disapproval making down feel down about yourself.

However much you might buy into the idea that is was these things (the rain or being disapproved-of) that made you feel the way you did, it is NOT a true representation of what actually happens inside the human mind.

Actually, what happens is:

  1. Firstly, your senses detect some external stimulus (sound, sight, smell or ‘feel’).
  2. Your brain takes this information and compares it to the last experience you had that was the same or similar.
  3. Based on this internal comparison you are likely to classify the experience in accordance with previous, similar experiences.
  4. Next, you apply your core beliefs to give that experience a specific meaning.
  5. Finally, depending on the meaning you have ascribed to that event, you respond with a ‘behaviour’ (normally an emotional response but this could be an ‘action’)

This all happens very quickly, particularly for those experiences that you have had before which are very similar, or which you believe are similar.

The Event-Outcome View

In the example below you can see the conventional view that an event leads directly to a feeling, in this case, losing a wallet is taken as the principle cause of feeling upset.


The Event-Meaning-Outcome View

CBT, on the other hand, argues that the feeling of being upset is NOT caused by losing the wallet, but by what losing the wallet MEANS to the person having the experience.

For example, if your wallet contained your winning lottery ticket which you were about to cash-in at the local shop, then you might feel completely differently to the case where the wallet was old, falling apart and completely empty!


Which Meaning is Correct?

In another example:

“Simon arranges to meet a girl outside the cinema for their first date.

Ten minutes after the time she is supposed to meet him there she has still not arrived.”

There are a multitude of different ways that this event could be interpreted by Simon, each leading to a different emotional experience, as follows:

  1. “Well that just goes to prove how unlikable I really am, she decided not to bother coming”. – Feels ‘crest-fallen’ and ‘sad’.
  2. “Absolutely typical, let down once again. This just proves that you can’t trust people”. – Feels ‘angry’ and ‘bitter’.
  3. “She must be stuck in traffic and will probably be here soon. If not, I’ll pop and and see that other film I really wanted to see anyway” – Feels ‘composed’ and ‘optimistic’.

The WAY any person interprets this type of event is based on their underlying core beliefs about themselves (1) about other people (2) or their general understanding and sense of optimism (3).

CBT helps you to identify and then modify these underlying assumptions that often give rise to unhelpful emotional outcomes.

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If you’d like to find out more about overcoming or recovering from mental health problems then why not arrange a free initial consultation with us.

During this consultation we will discuss your particular problems and the potential solutions in a safe and confidential environment without you having to commit to any therapy or counselling going forward.

The consultation lasts around 50 minutes and is a great opportunity to meet our therapists and decide if you would like to proceed with any support.

Paul Lee BSc. MSc. Psych.

Psychologist Paul Lee in Clinic

You can contact Paul by e-mail on:

Tel: 07434 776125

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