Logic, like emotion, is only as destructive or useful as you make it. Both are valuable assets in coming to a decision on whether action is required, how to go about the action and in determining whether the action was appropriate. Paying attention to only one and dismissing the other can lead to a harmful extreme.
There is good to emotion. Emotions are what motivates us to care for and bond with our children before they even come out of the womb. There is no rational basis for feeling this kind of love for someone we hardly know. It is automatic and serves a valuable purpose. Emotions allow us to connect socially; they are the part of our make up that reminds us that our ability to do does not always mean we should.
You probably already know the value in logic, it is constantly lionized in the popular culture but there is a dark side. One of my undergrad philosophy professors attempted to provide an airtight defense of genocide as a response to poverty. The class, as you would expect, was appalled and remained silent as he went back to his podium and stared at us for a minute or so. He broke the silence with this statement-
“You’ve been taught that your ability to think is what separates you from animals. That is half true. Your capacity for compassion and empathy are equally important. That’s why you’re being forced to take a philosophy class.”
Rigid logic can trigger symptoms of anxiety and depression because of the harm it causes to our relationships and ourselves when expectations are not met and rules are not followed. Folks who struggle with eating disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (as examples) can be highly logical. While the behaviors may appear strange or irrational, the thinking behind them is not necessarily disconnected from reality or evidence. The harmful behaviors do work to serve a purpose in resolving distress and even managing relationships.
Earlier last month I wrote about the purpose an eating disorder could potentially serve for an individual in their family and that many theorists view eating disorders as a response to how different types of family systems work. The behaviors can be effective in achieving the end result. While the other costs associated with the behaviors appear to significantly outweigh the benefit, that conclusion while more reasonable and widely accepted, is ultimately subjective. I’m not arguing that eating disorders or OCD behaviors are things we should encourage, only that there is a logic to them that is reinforced with a behavioral reward. The logic is also what drives the emotion that amplifies the urge to engage in the behavior.
Rigid logic is really a perspective silo. The line of thinking may make sense and because it’s the only thing you see or consider, you act from it.
So how do we address rigid logic?
Mindfulness can help us remain detached to one way of thinking; by stepping out of our thinking and observing it we become more open to considering other more effective ways of handling a problem. Mindfulness means being an observer of the experience before participating in it, playing the part of audience member before taking on the role of actor. As an audience member how would you describe the actions of the actor? What are the potential consequences of the action? How do other players in the scene react? How do you feel as you’re watching the scene play out?
Thought records can help us avoid logic silos by putting our thinking on paper along with the emotions they trigger. Thought records challenge us to determine if our thinking is evidence based and reasonable. The more certain and critical the conclusion the more cause you have to evaluate it. Maintaining an awareness of common thought distortions can also prompt us to reconsider whether our thinking is reasonable. Being aware of thought distortions is sort of like having an early warning system that our logic may be going down a harmful path.
Being aware of historical triggers can act as anchors to unhelpful thinking or beliefs. This awareness can help us become more diligent in evaluating whether the current belief is based on the event in front of us or an automatic thought pattern tied to a set of historical experiences. For example, a woman who grew up in an abusive household may become triggered into a negative thought pattern when receiving constructive criticism at work. She may begin to fear losing her job and may criticize herself in ways that had nothing to do with the feedback or the intentions of the person providing it. Understanding that the thinking is, in part, connected to the “stuff back then” can help her modulate the thinking and the reaction she displays in receiving the feedback.
Tapping into social supports, getting other opinions or using therapy to process our thoughts and beliefs can also help with broadening our thought process. Leaving our thinking open to the analysis of others can help challenge our assumptions and work to validate and give evidence to more reasonable thinking.
- 15 Common Cognitive Distortions (Psych Central)