“No one understands me.”
“I’m so weak.”
“I’m a failure.”
These are some examples of Automatic Negative Thoughts. Phrases like these can often feel true and absolute. The good news is, you are able to challenge redirect them into alternative messages like:
“I am respected by my peers.”
“I take good care of myself.”
“I won’t give up.”
So how do you become aware of the ways that you talk to yourself and change your internal dialogue? One way to do this is by using Mindfulness. Now, I know that mindfulness has been a buzzword for some time now, but hear me out. Being mindful is just another way to say you are actively self-aware. If you are reading this and thinking, “I totally have negative thoughts,” then you already are mindful and self-aware. See, you can do this! By just being aware of the thought being present, now, you are able to choose how you want to address it.
A study published by Springer in Cognitive Therapy and Research looked at the impact of optimism vs. pessimism on stress. Their findings showed that fewer psychological symptoms and greater life satisfaction were associated with those with a more optimistic outlook. One of my favorite ways to address an Automatic Negative Thought is by reframing it into a more constructive thought. Take a thought like, “I will never amount to anything.” This thought is about the future. And, the future, in fact, has not happened yet. So, you could reframe this thought and follow up (redirect) with something like, “I am doing something today that will positively impact my future.” By doing this, you are not creating a new neural pathway in the brain and reinforcing this new, alternative thought! Over time, the more you redirect a negative thought, you can weaken it. Cool, right?!
But how does this work? Well, there’s this fantastic superpower that our brains have called Neuroplasticity. The American Psychological Association defines neuroplasticity as the ability of the nervous system to change in response to experience or environmental stimulation (APA.org) Because of our brain’s ability to rewire, we are able to stop these thoughts in their tracks and redirect them.
So you are in the driver’s seat, now what? Sometimes the Automatic Negative Thoughts we have have very strong neural connections. They can feel so true that they are hard to shake. Here are two ways you can challenge your Automatic Negative Thoughts.
In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) fact-checking calls us to ask the question, “Is this true?” This article from Harvard Health Publishing suggests we look for evidence for and against our Automatic Negative Thoughts. For example, if you have just been ghosted by someone you were dating, are you really unlovable? Evidence for and against this claim might be that, yes, being ghosted and left really hurts! However, just because this one person, from a dating app, with whom you went on three dates with (let’s be real) just was not a great match for you.
By bringing yourself compassion amidst negative thinking, you are telling yourself that you know you will be ok. And all in all, everything will be ok. Being kind to yourself can be an entirely new and foreign concept, but there is no better time to start than now. I invite you to try this:
Notice how you feel, if any new sensations arise like tingling, warmth, maybe a sense of tension, or even fear. No matter what is present for you, be with it. This is the feeling underneath the Automatic Negative thought. Now breathe. On your own, or with a therapist, this feeling can be explored, confronted, comforted, or whatever it needs in the moment. Therapists provide a safe space for you to pause and look at what may be underlying your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
If you find it difficult to identify, redirect, and move forward in a more positive direction with your thoughts, we would love to help! Our therapists are here for you, to support you in finding what works best for you, and to help empower you with the realization that you hold greater power than your own thoughts.
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