Did you ever stop to consider your thought life?
The basic tenet of cognitive behavior therapy posits that thoughts impact feelings and feelings influence actions or behavior so let’s stop to do an inventory of our thoughts. We are conscious of our wardrobe, our assets, circumstances that we want to change, the composition of our family, etc., but we are often unaware as we move through our day that our thoughts often show up to govern our day. The truth is that our thoughts don’t come knocking on our door to announce themselves to awaken our self-awareness, but these auto-electrical impulses of our brain remain active whether we’re conscious of them or not. These automatic thoughts are the sum of our experiences from childhood, adverse and positive experiences, words spoken to us, words spoken over us, kind and unkind words, images, and so on. The problem though is that we believe these repetitive thoughts and it often becomes the measure that we use to define ourselves. Our core beliefs about ourselves and the world come from our memory storehouse of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. If this storehouse is composed of more negative than positive thoughts, then it is not difficult to forecast depression and other mood disorders.
Let’s examine a few of these unhelpful thoughts:
All or nothing thinking.
it’s either black or white, no in-between. The truth, however, is that all of us are somewhere in between. We all have strengths and weaknesses, things that we are good at, and things that we are lacking in and it’s on these occasions that we need to cut ourselves some slack and practice self-compassion. Catastrophizing is another flawed way of thinking. One bad thing happens and it is blown out of proportion. It’s the tendency to go to the most drastic outcome rather than leaning to the more probable outcome. It is not reasonable to exaggerate outcomes.
How often do we have this soliloquy with ourselves? We think we know what other people are thinking about us and often go off on the deep end as judge, juror and prosecutor for ideas we have no evidence for. The truth is that we really don’t know what other people are experiencing or what they may be responding to. Often this has nothing to do with the person feeling offended.
A typical trauma response is personalization. Persons often blame themselves for abuse when it was entirely no fault of theirs. A child will blame himself/herself for sexual abuse or a partner will blame himself/herself if the other partner engages in domestic violence. This personalization of blame is misplaced. The thought of blaming oneself can become so habitual and persistent, that the thought is believed to be true and will overtime affect self-image negatively.
This inclination to forecast doom is because of a previously negative experience. In fortune telling, someone may have failed a test and pronounces failure on every other test. Another example is someone who goes through a bad divorce and consequently predicts that they will never marry again. Just because we had one bad experience doesn’t mean that we won’t recover and become resilient. This simple formula is also a litmus test to more helpful way of thinking to boost mood.
T- Is it true?
H- Is it helpful?
I-Is it inspiring?
N-Is it necessary?
K-Is it kind?
Learning to be sensitive to our thoughts takes time and practice and an anxious, depressed mood is often the warning that we’re responding to a negative automatic thought. In essence, if we consider positive thoughts like a bank, we want a storehouse of positive thoughts to pull from in times of distress or crisis. A deficit of positive thoughts, on the other hand, will threaten emotional stability and can easily lead to feeling overwhelmed. In addition, if our negative thoughts are not held in check, they can run havoc and cause mood instability.
This May as we celebrate mental health awareness month, let’s be open to take inventory of our thought life, let’s be mindful that negative thoughts encourage sadness, rumination, worry, perpetuation of shame, and other unhelpful emotions. More affirming and positive thoughts invite hope, emotional resilience, more positive self-portraits, and improved self-image. Above all, let’s remember, thoughts are not statements of fact, so let’s put them under the microscope to determine if they are true, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind.
Disclaimer: Blogs do not constitute therapy nor is a blog a substitute for therapy. Please seek the services of a professional to address your concerns.