War Between Thoughts and Emotions

The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.” – Daniel Goleman.

To be caught in a web between one’s own thoughts and feelings ever so often leads to a spiral. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the war renders our minds and hearts incapable of optimal functioning when there is no respite from the conflict between thoughts and feelings. Our minds work a certain way, and our hearts want to follow their own path.

There are moments when our brains take a backseat and allow our impulses to drive us, a fight-or-flight kind of situation. Every action is born of a corresponding thought or feeling, and understanding the inner conflict revolving around the same is imperative. The repercussions of such turmoil is seen when the need to go about our days with purpose, is lost to the power of indecisiveness.  

A single thought can give rise to a myriad of feelings. When we feel a certain way, we either revel in the feeling, or choose to move past it. Feelings don’t define a person; a person defines their own feelings. This process requires the alignments of our thoughts and our feelings, a process which, when understood fully, is not as tedious as it sounds.

A simple act can invoke an array of emotion from different people, based on their perception of the situation. Perception is largely dependent on the thought process one indulges in, which allows a scenario to be seen through a different lens.

Perception goes hand in hand with perspective. One man’s wrong could be another’s right, and therefore, there can never be a true ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or to feel. One of the conflicts between thoughts and feelings arise from this complication of perspective. We often find ourselves employing someone else’s perspective in our lives and our choices, and this, no matter how we feel about a situation, confounds our thought process. When you truly accept yourself as you are, your thoughts and feelings will be accepted by yourself as well, and no amount of ‘social pressure’, so to speak, can alter this mental serenity, which is why self-acceptance is one of the most important tools a person should own and use.

With a constant change in our surroundings, we adapt our emotions and our thoughts to match those. However, ever so often, our minds take time to synchronize with our realities. This is where perception plays a role: learning to adapt is about perceiving the change as less of a challenge and taking it in our stride. This is one of the scenarios where aligning thoughts and feelings is imperative: it allows for existential serenity.

The war between thoughts and feelings is one a person fights only when the two aren’t synchronized. Being aware of our thoughts and our feelings contributes to improved mental health, because being in touch with one’s self allows for alignment and thereby better decision making, a more wholesome understanding of the self and is a step towards self-actualization.

Contrary to popular belief, feelings are very personal and are the responsibility of an individual. A person feeling a negative emotion can choose to turn that into a positive emotion, so long as their thoughts follow suit. Thoughts are extremely helpful in coming to terms with feeling one way and choosing to feel another. Feeling and thinking about a situation a certain way is natural, but is not an imposition to the human. The choice to feel, and how to feel, lies in the hands of the person alone, unless, of course, they hand over the remote control of their lives to another. In the odd case that we choose to give someone else the enormous responsibility of our feelings, it invokes the right of passage known as the blame game. The blame game doesn’t empower, nor does it lead to anything but eventual self-destruction. Taking responsibility for our thoughts and feelings in turn gives us responsibility of our actions, which in turn allows for self-acceptance, and it is always easier to ‘move on’ in life when our minds and hearts are aligned.

Experiences contribute to shaping a person’s perception. Let us take the example of a break-up. Parting ways with a person who plays a significant role in your life can be difficult. The feelings may range from hurt to angry, depending on individual situations. Moving on is one of the hardest things a person endures, and despite the seven stages approach, often the need to make sense of these feelings escapes us. Emotions reign when dealing with a break-up, and until a person truly wishes to move on, they will not be able to make sense of the downtrodden way they feel.

Putting a thought to the feeling gives us a chance to introspect, to formulate a healthier approach to dealing with these feelings. Looking at it the other way around, putting a feeling to a thought often allows a person to hold onto the thought, to find the thought a place amongst our beliefs as we begin to ‘feel strongly’ about a thought, so to speak.

When it comes to feelings, or even thoughts, there is no wrong or right. It is all a matter of perception. Every person feels things differently, and this can be attributed to their own thought process. The cognitive is more pragmatic, and breaks down the complex enigma of feelings into something the mind and heart can comprehend. No one can tell another person that what they’re feeling is the correct thing to feel.

Taking the example of a break-up once again, a person may find it in themselves to move past the separation and dive into another relationship within days or weeks of the break-up. Another person could take years until they feel ready to find love again. It is the sole choice of the individual to stop feeling hurt, although it may not seem that way until they’re ready to accept this. A person may believe that one bad relationship has altered the way they view future relationships, but once again, the choice is theirs and theirs alone to define what their future relationships look like. They may put up walls around their hearts if hurt once, allowing their inherent need to love and be loved to be suppressed by a past experience. However, if a person is able to align their feelings with their thoughts, they will be able to use the experience, no matter how heart-breaking, to their advantage, and allow themselves to be open to new experiences, and take every challenge in their stride. But if a person’s mind and their heart at war, how could one expect them to move on, when one metaphorical organ is telling them otherwise? It is up to us to choose whether never to fall in love again or learn from it and use it to understand ourselves. This choice depends on how we approach the situation. If we learn from the experience it becomes valuable, shifting from a painful experience to a learning one.

Personally, I equate feelings to the heart and thoughts to the mind, simply for the ease of understanding. When it comes to making decisions, I find that there is almost always a strain revolving around picking whether the heart or the mind should prevail. Looking at a situation from the practical side of things usually implies allowing the emotions to be kept at bay. Allowing emotion to prevail would imply that a person is being impulsive, and allowing their choices to be dictated by the way they feel. What is lesser known is that there is a balance that exists, where thinking and feeling come together and rationality prevails.

One of the major conflicts with emotions stems from the idea of positive and negative attitudes towards them. Take the feeling of pain, for instance. When one thinks of pain, the implication is always negative. Alteration of one’s thought process, however, allows for one to look at the feeling as positive; for example, how pain can be understood and lead to motivation, or perhaps even self-growth.

The war between thoughts and emotions is illogical, irrational and often inexplicable. It isn’t necessarily consequential. The idea of ‘overthinking’ can be associated with feelings. We think things through and then re-think them, solely because our emotions are searching for closure, or some sort of an explanation, almost anything that makes sense to us. And when nothing does, we think some more, allowing the war to strengthen, and for sense to evade us.

Humans have a tendency to be emotional, it is looked at as one of the downsides of what it means to be human. Emotions are one of the most important aspects of humanity; the appropriate concoction leads to an empathetic and compassionate existence. We deny our inherent characteristics of the full spectrum of human emotion simply because we view it as an inconvenience. Being ‘emotional’ doesn’t make a person less rational, nor does being practical or being pragmatic make a person emotionless. It is unfortunate that a lack of understanding of human thoughts and emotions and the prevalence of biases towards the idea of ‘feelings’ allows for the chasm between them to only widen.

I truly believe that the war between thoughts and feelings is self-created. The alignment of the two is not hard to achieve, if only one chooses it to be. Every individual has the power within themselves to make choices. Granted, sometimes circumstances evade us, but we can choose to control our reactions. This is where the alignment comes into play. Situations invoke feelings, which is turn bears a reaction. Thinking through the situation and being able to give oneself the space to really examine the outcome of every reaction is an art that when practiced enough, becomes habitual, almost instinctive. And that is when we know that the war is truly won.

Feelings are fleeting, unless we choose to let them linger. Acceptance is always the key to progress. Acceptance of feelings, thoughts and situations make it impossible for the war to prevail. To overcome the hurdles brought about in our daily existence, we can choose to accept what lies beyond our control and choose only the way we react. This choice is one exercised after careful consideration of our thoughts and feelings.

Every action is a choice, be it conscious or subconscious. And the rationale behind an action is the intertwining of thoughts and feelings. A prolonged thought is a belief system, and our beliefs are usually based on the way they make us feel. For example, a belief in compassion and kindness towards fellow human beings is a feel-good kind of scenario. If I hold open the door for someone else, or help an elderly person cross the road, the validation exists in finding happiness in the gratification from someone else. On the other end of the spectrum, I could be someone who believes in ‘each one to their own’ and I could live a long and happy existence doing things only for myself.

Sometimes we experience things that we cannot explain, and therefore it becomes harder to cope with those emotions. Being able to put a name to the feeling, as a face to a name, is helpful in such situations, as it allows one to understand the feeling better. Understanding one’s emotions and thought processes makes finding the balance between them easier.

Continuing once again with the example of a break-up, we attribute a break-up to a cause, be it a negative one, such as cheating, or something uncontrollable, like a resistance to having a long-distance relationship. Our thoughts find logic in the intangible act of parting ways, whereas are feelings are chaotic. We need to be able to label the way we feel, for example, feeling hurt or lonely or upset, so as to make sense of the feeling that a break-up has left us with. We want a reason because our minds need to give our hearts some closure, and whatever the explanation, we have to find a way to allow our thoughts and feelings to come together and thereby begin the healing process for ourselves.

Be it a negative experience or a positive one, every human has undergone something or the other which has led to them becoming the person they are today. What we don’t realize is that it isn’t just experiences that build us or break us, but our reactions to the situations that define the people we are today. This is where the war between thoughts and feelings is born, and as we choose our actions, we forge the path that this war proceeds upon.

One of the best ways to navigate through the combat is equipping yourself with the right armory. Your arsenal must always comprise of self-love and acceptance, and come what may, don’t be hard on yourself. Your mind and heart are your lifelong companions, so treat them with the same compassion you would expect from others, and trust me, the ‘war’ between them won’t seem so daunting.

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