The thoughts we have not only affect our emotional health, but also our physical health. When we think negatively, our body responds as if it is a tension-filled situation. The fight-flight response is called into action: your adrenalin flows, your pulse quickens, and you exhaust yourself.
Our thinking patterns are learned or automatic responses developed by years of experiences. These responses are habits we form as a result of watching those around us: parents, teachers, peers, etc. Without being aware of what is happening, messages are being decoded in our minds, minute after minute, day after day, week after week, and year after year. We interpret situations, make judgments, and carry on conversations with ourselves all the time. The nature of this self-talk can result in self-doubt and self-criticism or in a continual reinforcement of positive messages.
Cognitive therapy, originally developed by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck at the University of Pennsylvania, can turn the negative thinker into a positive one. It has been found to be more effective than antidepressant drugs. While it works well for depression, it can also help the person who wants to change that internal critic, that nagging inner voice whose dialogue leads to low-grade depression each time you make a mistake or face a challenging situation. Cognitive therapists have discovered that negative thoughts almost always involve gross distortions. And by recognizing the distorted thoughts process, you can then work on eliminating them.
Here are the six most common distortions:
Exaggerating. Along with grossly overestimating the size of the problem, you underestimate your ability to deal with it. You tend to jump to conclusions without enough evidence and believe your conclusions are correct. Example: I can’t do my job!
Over-generalizing. You reach a general conclusion based on particular instances. Example: Nothing ever turns out right!
Jumping to conclusions. This distortion has two parts: mind-reading and fortune telling. Mind-reading example: He is ignoring me. It must be something I’ve done. Fortune telling example: I haven’t heard from her. She must not like me.
Either/Or thinking. You are making everything black and white, with no gray. Example: Either I lose 80 pounds or I’m a failure.
Ignoring the positive. You tend to remember only the negatives and view the positives from a negative viewpoint. This helps you retain your negative self-image.
Personalizing. You tend to believe that everything revolves around you. This is, of course, a distortion of the facts.
After a time, negative thoughts all sound alike. This is because they are. A chief characteristic of negative thoughts is that they are usually wrong. They are an exaggeration, a distortion, of the truth. Negative thoughts are usually automatic. They leap into your mind. They are not conclusions you have reached through logic and reason.
Next week, we’ll discuss how you can go about changing your negative thoughts and put your life and problems into a realistic perspective.
Copyright 2011 Lynn Borenius Brown
© Lynn Borenius Brown and The Loving Path, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lynn Borenius Brown and The Loving Path with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.