Updated: Mar 29
“To “emotionally reason” is to take your emotions as evidence for the truth. Example: ‘I feel like an idiot, therefore I am an idiot …’ Emotional reasoning plays a role in almost all depressions. Because things feel so negative to a depressed person, such a person assumes they truly are. It doesn't occur to them to challenge the validity of the perception that creates their feelings.” (Watson, 2021)
One of the most earth-shattering moments in my recovery was when my therapist taught me about the emotional reasoning thinking error. She pointed out this way of thinking that kept me trapped in my eating disorder, “I feel fat/that I am fat therefore I must be fat.” And I also came to realize that the LDS church is literally built and exists off of this thinking error.
When you are a missionary, what are you supposed to do? You are supposed to bring it back to the Book of Mormon and people’s testimony on it. The book of mormon is the cornerstone of the church and the most correct book that ever existed. “I know it may seem hard to not be able to drink coffee, but I know that Joseph Smith was given revelation to create the Word of Wisdom because he also translated the Book of Mormon which I know is true because I felt peace after praying to god about it. Therefore the whole church is true.” You are consantly telling people that if they feel good while reading the book of mormon, then nothing else matters. Because if you feel good, then it must be true, right? And if it is true, then the whole church is true. If the book of mormon is true then it doesn’t matter that same-sex couples cannot get married. Or that black people did not have priesthood until 1970. Or that women are not allowed to have the priesthood or hold offices of power. Or that a lot of church history does not seem to make sense with what I was taught. I felt it was true before, therefore everything else that has to do with the church must be true as well.
On my mission, would also point out the times that people felt good, during moving musical numbers, while reading a cool passage in scripture, hearing a loving prayer, feeling peace during testimony meeting; and then use that as evidence of the truthfulness of the church.
Testimony meeting is literally to remind people of their experiences feeling the spirit in order to further confirm the truthfulness of the church. Testimony meeting might as well be called emotional reasoning meeting. People are told to bear their testimony often to remind themselves of their wonderful experiences which keeps them stuck in this thinking error and therefore stuck in the church. You are taught to hold onto someone else’s testimony when yours is failing, so I can hold onto the time that my mission companion felt good when I cannot remember any time I felt good in church. Which I feel is a deeper level of errored thinking. It should be called emotional reasoning when you rely on your own heartfelt experiences and then EMOTIONAL REASONING when you rely on other people’s heartfelt experiences.
This thinking error kept me in the church way longer than I ever would have if I realized how flawed this thinking is. One of those experiences I held onto until the day I left was when President Monson walked in the room during the Ogden Temple re-dedication. I was sitting in an amphitheater full of thousands of teenagers who were talking and laughing, as teenagers do. As soon as he walked in, the entire room went SILENT, and then someone started singing “We thank the oh god for a prophet,” and we all joined in. Talk about a powerful feeling. It was a feeling I had never felt up to this point and probably have not since. If I felt so good when the prophet walked in, then he must be a true prophet of god, right? And if he is the true prophet of god, then he must be leading the one true church. And if he is leading the one true church I better stay in it forever no matter how many logical fallacies it is built upon and no matter how miserable it makes me feel.
I feel fat after I eat, therefore I must be fat. So, for a long time, I would eat less and less to try to prevent myself from feeling “fat” after a meal. But the less I ate, the easier it became for me to feel “fat” after eating, and it just became a self-fulfilling prophesy until I could hardly move due to lack of nourishment. Or, could it be possible, that the feeling was actually due to being full and not being fat? That it is completely normal for people to feel full and maybe get a little bloated after eating? This was and is mind-blowing to me. I relied so much on my feelings that I literally LOOKED fatter after I ate. On the days I ate enough food, I looked like I gained weight. So the next day I would restrict, and it would look like I lost some of that weight again. That is how strong this thinking error is, it caused me to visibly see a difference in myself that was not there. It took me a long time to realize this was body dysmorphia because I was so sure it was a legit thing that was happening. How could my feelings be so off?
Most people who want to leave the church struggle due to one or two specific experiences that were so powerful and MUST confirm the truthfulness of the church. For me, it is the same type of logic for my experience when President Monson walked in the room at the Ogden Temple Celebration. Could it be true, just like when I felt fat, that there could potentially be another reason I felt that much peace when President Monson walked in the room? Is it possible, that given any situation where a room full of people went immediately silent and started singing a song of admiration would give off a similar feeling?
I remember being confused because the feeling that I associated with the spirit was the strongest outside of church settings for me. When I hung out with a girl in my grade with special needs I felt it very strongly, and it confused me because her family was not LDS. On my mission, one of the strongest feelings of the spirit were when we talked to our doorman who was not a member and was not interested in becoming a member. When he would bring us fruit or sandwiches and talk to us about his daughter who was our age I felt so much peace and it confused me. I would literally start crying sometimes just thinking of his father-like love to me and my companions and am honestly tearing up now.
It hit me at some point in my journey, that connection brings a peaceful feeling for me. Feeling connected to the girl in my grade with special needs, feeling connected to Mr. Wei, feeling connected to those thousands of teenagers at the temple celebration, feeling connected while singing hymns, feeling connected while pouring your testimony out at girls camp, etc. If I felt good in church before, how could I leave? I have realized that my emotions are not necessarily evidence for truth. Logic needs to be there too, and there was a logical disconnect for me with the teachings of the church. Not the people, not the culture, but the actual doctrine and history of the church. The church leaders, the commandments, the gospel, etc. are all really hard for me to logically understand.
I am not saying to completely dismiss your feelings and emotions. A huge reason I left the church had to do with the logical disconnect, but the main thing that pushed me over was how miserable I started to feel at church, while reading scriptures, listening to general conference, etc. Decisions need to be made using a combination of tools, our feelings being just one of them.
At the end of each post I feel the need to share what my point is, so here we go again. My point in writing this is to expose this thinking error and how it is used in the church. If you are like me and are staying in a church that makes you absolutely miserable because of a few specific feel-good instances, your thinking is flawed. Sorry to be so blunt. It is not your fault though, you were taught to think this way since you were brought into existence. If you feel good for the most part in the church, good for you. Stay. But don’t be afraid to question your testimony when things do not seem to be making sense.
Watson, A. (2021). Emotional Reasoning. Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://essex-behavioural-therapy.co.uk/article.asp?topic=emotional-reasoning&id=61