Reason vs. Emotion

by Mark Schiffman, M.S. 

Many of us go around thinking that we would be better off not feeling any emotion – “I should be reasoned and well-thought out and emotion just gets in the way of being rational and productive!”  We try to limit or completely suppress any and all emotions so we can stay “Spock like” in our decision making. The problem is that this conception that reason and emotion are in a battle, dueling for the right to make our decisions is unhelpful and untrue.

The neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, noticed something peculiar while studying a patient who had part of his frontal lobe taken out to remove a brain tumor.  The patient, referred to in the research as Elliot, still had a very high IQ but he was paralyzed by an inability to make decisions. After investigation, Damasio concluded that Elliot had difficulty experiencing emotion, and as a consequence wasn’t able to decide between different options. Damasio suggested that when we make decisions, we use how our body feels while considering different options as one of the factors in deciding, and Elliot, unable to feel, was unable to decide.

Even though we focus on thinking rationally in REBT, this does not mean that the goal is an emotionless existence.  Albert Ellis made clear that it is factually incorrect to pin emotion verse reason (what he calls a “false dichotomy”). The goal in REBT is to think in a way that engenders healthy emotions rather than unhealthy ones, and then use those emotions to help us make the right decisions that lead to us accomplishing our goals.  So next time we may think that it would be easier to make a decision if we were cool, calculated and emotionless, we should realize that our healthy emotions actually allow us to make better decisions.

Mark Schiffman

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