Thursday, September 10, 1998

Feeling Good

•p. 28: “…most schools of thought place a strong emphasis on ‘getting in touch’ with your feelings… Depression is not an emotional disorder at all!… Every bad feeling you have is a result of your distorted negative thinking.”
        He’s wrong, of course. This is the central problem I have with Cognitive Therapy, both Burns’ and Dyer’s versions. Feelings do not come from thoughts. Feelings and thoughts are two discrete things. Closely interrelated but separate. One does not ‘cause’ the other. Feelings can come from thoughts, surely, but so can thoughts come from feelings—more easily, I believe. They can influence each other strongly, however. Your thoughts can indeed change your feelings—if you believe them. Emotions don’t come from thought, they come from belief, and that belief can change from moment to moment. It is what you believe about the world that colors your emotion, and shapes the way you look at the world you perceive. Those beliefs can be strongly influenced—instantaneously—by your thoughts, which are largely under conscious control. The best way I can describe it now is that feeling and thought react simultaneously to your perception, feeding off of and being modified by each other. But the cardinal fact remains that your emotions are shaped almost solely by your beliefs, and these beliefs are largely shaped by your cognitions. These beliefs aren’t all deep-seated, permanent things, either. Many of them can change from moment to moment, in just the fashion indicated by Feeling Good. So: let’s try this as a preliminary model:

        So let me state my specific objection to a particular passage, and let that objection carry for all the other similar passages:
•p. 29: “You will learn, as she did, that the negative thoughts that flood your mind are the actual cause of your self-defeating emotions.”
        No. They are a strong contributing factor, but they are not the cause. But the practical upshot of his statement is true: you can change your emotions with your thoughts. It’s merely that these thoughts are acting on the beliefs that your emotions immediately stem from, rather than on the emotions themselves. After all, if you really could change your emotions so arbitrarily, who would you be? You’d only have to think happy thoughts and you’d be happy! No. It doesn’t work that way. You must believe it for it to work. Belief is the key here. Your emotions supply a large part of your identity, and all your motivation. (Without emotions, you have no identity!) You can’t control your emotions; not really. You can stop yourself from feeling many of them—almost all—but you can’t control them, because the only real “you” that exists is centered on your emotions!
        Besides, where do you think these negative thoughts come from? They originate with your emotions, always, based on your beliefs. Your cognitive center has no will. It merely calculates. You can merely choose, with your mind, based on your deepest emotions, which other emotions are important to you, and which you will not feel, and to what degree.
        But people who depend on their minds do not have no will; in fact, it seems that they often have the strongest will of all. How do I explain this? Because the person who relies on their cognitions to tell them what’s right and wrong are acting only on their deepest emotions, not allowing the rest to enter the equation. Or at least not to alter it.

        It is true that if you alter your misconceptions, your mood will improve.

•p. 32–45: I think I’ve said this elsewhere, but I’m really not sure about his 10-point list. It has some validity, but I’m not sure that the list is either totally necessary or sufficient. Mental filter, for example. Why is it called that, anyway?

3/21/08 10:17 PM I believe I’ve got further notes on this book later in this journal, but I wanted to insert some current comments here, since I coincidentally find myself rereading this book just at the time that I am typing in my 10-year old journal entry on it.
        I can’t comment on cognitive therapy in general, or on Beck’s methodology or ideology. All I’ve got to go on is Burns’ book. But it is an excellent example, in small, of a problem I have with the psychological establishment in general: An appalling lack of philosophy. Oh, he’ll throw the word around occasionally, but heaven forbid he should ever actually study the stuff. If he had, he would have discovered that there are volumes upon volumes of rather sophisticated thought on the difference between, and the relationship among, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Perhaps he would disagree with it all. But the ridiculously naïve and unsophisticated (not to mention inconsistent; after all his talk about thoughts being the important thing, he’ll throw in an offhand comment about belief once in a while) model he proposes is rather an insult to the philosophers who have spent so much work on precisely these questions, as well as foolish, when all this work has been done that he could have access to to improve his vision. But that’s psychology for you; they’re actually doing jackleg philosophy, but they have to pretend it’s “science,” so they don’t need all those ivory tower “ideas.”

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