Got Anxiety? Emotions … and our ‘second reaction’ (part 4 of 4) |

Got Anxiety? Emotions … and our ‘second reaction’ (part 4 of 4)

Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D.
Mary B. Barmann, MFT

Editor’s note

This is the fourth in a 4-part series from the Barmanns about Cognitive Errors. To read parts 1-3, visit, search “Barmann.”

We do not always have control over the various events we encounter each day. Some experiences are positive in nature, while others can be quite disconcerting.

Positive experiences typically result in feelings of happiness and satisfaction. However, this is not always the case.

Did you know there are several “support groups” scattered around the country for those who have won big money playing the lottery? Not a lot of laughter, or high-fives, take place during these meetings. Instead, discussions revolve around family members and friends asking for money, marital conflict, etc.

When an unforeseen life event takes place, whether good or bad, we all experience a particular emotion (happy, hopeful, angry, depressed). Think of this emotional response as our “first reaction.”

Whatever that reaction is, leave it alone, and accept it — for the moment. What happens to us is not nearly as important as how we REACT to what happens to us.

We refer to this as a person’s “second reaction.” It’s this second reaction that is primarily responsible for our dominant emotional response to the situation we are needing to deal with; an emotion that may stay with us for quite some time.

Keep in mind that life events are not solely responsible for the emotions we experience. It is our thoughts, beliefs, expectations, interpretations and appraisals of these events that are directly responsible for our emotional state at any given time.

Sometimes, we accurately interpret our interactions with others. However, there are plenty of times when, based on mood, fatigue and other factors, we misappraise the meaning we place on life events.

When our interpretations of particular situations are inaccurate, we refer to these misappraisals as “cognitive distortions.”

When a person consistently misattributes the meaning he or she assigns to situational events, the individual begins to form a DISTORTED PATTERN OF THINKING, making it extremely difficult to distinguish fact from fiction; thus setting the stage for the experience of negative emotions.

Let’s briefly examine 5 examples of common distortions, and the emotional responses most closely associated with each.


Involves making excuses for events in life which do not go your way, or poor choices you made in an attempt to protect yourself from hurt feelings.

For example, you try to convince yourself that it’s OK for you boyfriend to be verbally or physically abusive because, “he just doesn’t know how to show his love, and besides, he only did it twice.”

Resulting Emotional Response: ANGER, LOW SELF-ESTEEM, DEPRESSION


Also referred to as “Black & White Thinking” (no shades of grey exist), this type of distortion refers to instances in which a person sees events as falling into 1 of 2 categories: safe or dangerous; flawless or defective; loved or unloved, etc.

You view yourself and others in only positive or negative extremes. A person can either do no wrong, or they are completely incompetent.

Resulting Emotional Response: ANGER, ANXIOUS


This cognitive distortion represents an extreme form of “all or none thinking.”

Instead of just saying, “I always make mistakes,” you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser, a complete failure.”

These labels only serve as useless abstractions, oftentimes prompting one to look for “evidence” to support the self-imposed label.

Resulting Emotional Response: ANXIETY, LOW SELF-ESTEEM, DEPRESSION


You blow things out of proportion by exaggerating the impact or importance of events.

This may also include minimizing the importance of your desirable qualities, or the merits of others.

For example, “Because I didn’t get the job, there will be a 1-month gab on my resume, and no one will ever hire me. I’ll never get a job, and will need to go on welfare.”

Resulting Emotional Response: HOPELESSNESS, ANXIETY


This is perhaps considered to be the most common error of thinking seen across much of the population. Certain mood states cloud our ability to see things as they really are.

The lens through which we see our world has become out of focus, and needs to be recalibrated.

When peeking through a dysfunctional lens, rather than taking the time to look at all the facts, we tend to jump over these truths, thus rushing to an unfair judgment of ourselves or others; combined with assumptions associated with catastrophic outcomes.

For example, “The reason I haven’t received a phone call back from the girl I asked out on a date is because she can’t stand the thought of being seen with someone like me. I just know there are no girls who would ever want to go out with me. I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.”


Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Visit http://www.anxietytreatment to learn more.

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