Challenging negative thoughts.
How we feel and how we behave is often as a result of how we have been thinking and what our thoughts say to us. If we experience confident, pleasant and life affirming thoughts we will invariably feel good about ourselves and be more likely to feel able to confront challenges that lay ahead of us. On the other hand, when we experience negative thoughts about ourselves, others or the world around us, we often feel negative changes to our mood and in turn, perhaps do not take positive risks, avoid anxiety provoking situations and become introverted and isolated. As a result of this, we simply maintain the cycle with thoughts such as “I am not good enough”, “Everyone else is better than me” and “I can’t even…”
Often, our negative thoughts go unquestioned and subsequently are ‘believed’ to be true, sometimes without the realisation that our thoughts are for the most part not facts but simply our opinion, our assumption (usually negative), or our false beliefs. Furthermore, this can lead to over-generalising and catastrophising our thoughts. We all have a tendency to accept our initial negative thoughts without further exploration or realistic and rational viewpoints. Often as a result of our core beliefs, we listen to negative ‘chatter’ and carry on living our lives without stopping to really examine our thoughts or determine a more balanced thought, and so consequently, have negative feelings and restrictive behaviours. These patterns continue to maintain themselves when our thoughts go unchallenged.
It can undoubtedly be a challenge to recognise when we are experiencing negative thoughts however working backwards often enables us to get to the initial thought(s) impacting on our feelings and associated behaviours.
The next time you recognise negative feelings or behaviours explore what your thoughts are telling you. Sometimes we cannot identify negative thoughts but yet still feel uneasy, low in mood and avoidant. Further exploration is required to understand why you may feel this way. If, however, there is still no identified negative thought, attempt to determine your feelings and what you can do to make yourself feel and behave in a way that lifts your mood. This may involve self-soothing e.g. running a bath and having candles, speaking to a friend, listening to uplifting music etc.
There will be occasions when some thoughts are actually facts, however what we believe about those facts are often inaccurate and so the maintenance cycle continues.
It is important to attempt to question and challenge our automatic negative thoughts by not assuming they are accurate. What would you say to a friend who experienced the same thoughts? What is an alternative viewpoint? What evidence backs up my thoughts? When have I thought this way before and my assumptions were inaccurate?
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About Matt Hemsley
I became a life coach following a career of over 20 years as a Mental Health Nurse working initially on an acute psychiatric ward and then predominantly in the community. I use Psycho-social Interventions and am a strong believer in adopting a CBT approach with my clients.