If you think about bad things over and over again, you are not alone. Many of us get these thoughts like a song that gets stuck in your head and there is no stop button to switch it off. These thoughts are sometimes referred to as Negative Automatic Thoughts (NAT)
Negative Automatic Thoughts (NAT) can happen when we go through situations in our life that is upsetting and confusing. We may worry about consequences of some of our wrong actions or bad things happening because of a situation in our lives. Such intrusive thoughts can be overwhelming and may affect our sleep, concentration and moods/feelings. NATs usually have very little truth in them and can be self-defeating.
You can stop that bad song in your head. Here’s how:
Thoughts are ideas in our head and the things that our brain tells us. When we say things silently to ourselves in our head, these are our thoughts.
Feelings are emotions and sensations we get in our body. Feeling and thoughts can result in behavior or the actions that we do.
Our thoughts affect the way we feel and how we act. When something happens, we form thoughts about the event that lead to feelings and result in actions. The way we talk to ourselves in our heads also affects how we feel and what we do.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a process that can help us to change the way we think, feel and behave.
How to stop that bad thoughts
(1) Pay attention to your thoughts
- When you are feeling lousy, ask yourself what are you thinking at that moment. Thoughts usually take more than one word to describe. Example: ” I am such a useless person”.
- Then ask yourself exactly how that thought make you feel? Name the feeling and emotion such as anger, guilt, shame, anxiety etc.
(2) Since the thoughts are bad, you need to put it on trial!
Act as a defense attorney, prosecutor, and judge, to determine the accuracy of the thought.
As the Prosecution and Defense attorney you will gather evidence in support of, and against, your thought. Evidence can only be used if it’s a verifiable fact. No interpretations, guesses, or opinions are allowed.
Challenge that thought. Is the thought accurate and fair? Are there other thoughts that could be more factual? Are there other ways of looking at a situation? Is there information about the other person, situation or yourself that you have missed and do not know yet?
Example: The thought that ‘you are a useless person’
Ask yourself: How true is that statement? Have you made contributions in other occasion? Are there talents and abilities that you have that is not noticed by others? Is it a one-off mistake that you made?
Thoughts that are irrational and not factual are called Cognitive Distortion. Some of these distorted thinking include:
- we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.
- Example: Susan’s ex-boyfriend James was usually late for their dates. Susan is hesitant to date again.
- Susan’s thought:
- Blowing expected consequences out of proportion in a negative direction.
- Example: The teacher told Mary that she didn’t do too well for a Math test.
- Mary’s Thoughts:
Heaven’s reward fallacy
- We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.
- Example: Jorden has been doing all his science homework diligently and submitting it on time but he didn’t get selected to be the Science Monitor for his class.
- Jorden’s thoughts:
Black or white thinking
- Viewing situations, people, or self as entirely bad or entirely good, nothing in between.
- Example: When Peter brought his vegetable salad to his friends potluck, the host commented, ‘’That’s our third salad.
- Peter’s thought:
- Making self-critical or other critical statements that include terms like never, nothing, everything or always
- Example: Jack was not in school when his friends planned an outing and he was accidentally overlooked.
- Jack’s thought:
- Ignoring the positive things that happen and choosing to focus on the negative instead.
- Example: Kate had her hair cut short and styled differently. After receiving several compliments from friends and family, one person didn’t like her new hairdo and said something not so nice.
- Kate’s thought:
- Belittling oneself by rejecting positive comments and experiences. Down-playing one’s ability and efforts as not being important or meaningful.
- Example: Steven was complimented by his boss for his good work on a project.
- Steven’s thought:
- Making negative assumptions regarding other people’s thoughts and motives
- Example: Aaron inquired about a transfer to a new department but was told by that department manager that the position was already filled.
- Aaron’s thought:
A better perspective
Our behaviour and emotions depend to a large degree on our perception of what we understand is happening.
What do you think this is?
How would you react to this?
Look at the whole picture, what is it really about?
What we think and anticipate can greatly affect our reaction to events and people.
Thoughts emotions and actions are interlinked. When you change in one area, other areas change as a result.
Reference Beck, J.S. (2011). New York: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Basics and Beyond (2nd Ed.). Guilford Press. Westbrook, D., Kennerley, H. & Kirk, J. (2007). An introduction to cognitive behaviour therapy: skills & applications. Published by Sage.
Image: Emoticon images by Pixabay, Pete Linforth. Feature image: www.freepik.com