Thursday, 4 August 2016

Identifying Negative Thoughts

Up first on my Don't Feed the Negativity task-list are my thoughts.
I'm not saying all my thoughts are 'bad' thoughts. There are some good ones in there. Like, sometimes I'm happy with an outfit choice I've made. Or I really liked a blog post I've just finished.

But as I said on Tuesday, these good moments can get lost in a sea of negative thoughts.

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts." - Marcus Aurelius
David Burns' The Feeling Good Handbook is like the bible of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (more on this topic shortly). I bought this book based on a psychiatrist's advice years ago and clung to it as my lifeboat when my psychiatry sessions ended. Seriously, if you want to work through negative thought patterns, this is your go-to book.

For today's post, I'm going to concentrate on the ten types of cognitive distortions Burns identifies in his book.

How to identify negative thinking

Cognitive thoughts are irrational or distorted thought patterns. They are often repetitive and hurtful. They can remind you of your failures, mistakes, shortcomings, inferiority and incompetency. 
Ever listen to a song on an endless loop for hours? Thoughts can play out like that too. And hearing the same negative thought over and over again exacerbates symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

To defeat negative thinking like this, David Burns recommends correctly identifying the types of thoughts you are thinking so that you can challenge them. I've been using the list below to identify my hurtful and negative thoughts for years. Recognizing the patterns helps me to remember that my thoughts aren't necessarily real or true. 

David Burns' Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking

All-or-nothing thinking
You see things in black-or-white categories; there is only good or bad - things are either perfect or a disaster. There is no middle ground.

You see a single event, like making a mistake in your job, as another example of your never-ending pattern of failure. You justify this by saying 'always' (I always mess up) or 'never' (Things never go right for me).  

Mental filter
You pick out a negative detail and focus solely on out, filtering out all the other positive details or experiences. Burns states this darkens your vision of reality as you obsess on the one negative that has happened.

Discounting the positive
You reject positive experiences by saying they don't count (boy, am I guilty of this one). It leaves you feeling unrewarded and inadequate.

Jumping to conclusions
Without any facts to back you up, you interpret things negatively. This type of thought can take two forms. By mind reading, you assume that someone is acting negatively towards you. It's like presuming you know that everyone is thinking something negative about you. By fortune-telling, you predict that things will turn out badly.

Like holding a magnifier up to problems, you exaggerate your unwanted traits or problems while minimizing your positives.

Emotional reasoning
You assume that your negative feelings reflect the way things are. "I feel guilty about the mistake I made in work. I'm going to get in big trouble." Often, how we feel isn't actually related to the reality of a situation.

'Should' statements
 This type of distorted thinking is so common. You criticize yourself or others with 'shoulds' or 'shouldn'ts'. You tell yourself that things should be a certain way or you should have done better. Similarly, Burns says musts, ought tos, and haves are just as bad.

I am forever labeling myself. Stupid. Idiot. Failure. An extreme type of all-or-nothing thinking, you identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying "I made a mistake", you say "I'm an idiot". 

Personalization and blame
You blame yourself when something bad occurs, even if that something isn't entirely your responsibility. You see things, even things outside of your control, as your fault and you personalize the blame and responsibility for something going wrong

Burns isn't the only CBT writer to come up with distorted thought patterns. There are others out there that you may find more relatable to your own thinking.

It's also important to remember that identifying and categorising negative thoughts isn't the last step to happiness. Next, you have to challenge your thoughts and learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking.

More on that in the coming weeks.

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