Friday, June 11, 2010

Psychotherapy Friday: Automatic Thoughts

Today's Topic: Automatic Thoughts
Automatic thoughts are those paradigms we have of the world, or ways we see others that we are not even conscious of. They influence our reactions to happy news, sad news, stress, etc. For example, if you hear news of a friend becoming pregnant, you might have different reactions based on your worldview. You might be overjoyed, because you think of pregnancy as a good thing. Or perhaps you feel sad for her, if you consider children to be difficult.

Listed below are ten common Automatic Thoughts with examples. Each is paired with a truthful statement the person could tell himself to avoid negative thinking:

1) All-or-Nothing Thinking: John recently applied for a promotion in his firm. The job went to another employee with more experience. John wanted this job badly and now feels that he will never be promoted. He feels that he is a total failure in his career.
     a. Truth: You can be successful even if you don’t reach a particular goal.

2) Overgeneralization: Linda is lonely and often spends most of her time at home. Her friends sometimes ask her to come out for dinner and meet new people. Linda feels that it is useless to try to meet people. No one could really like her. People are all mean and superficial anyway.
     a. Truth: No two people are the same; some are mean, and some are nice. Be sure not to make generalizations about people.

3) Mental Filter: Mary is having a bad day. As she drives home, a kind gentleman waves her to go ahead of him as she merges into traffic. Later in her trip, another driver cuts her off. She grumbles to herself that there is nothing but rude and insensitive people in her city.
     a. Truth: We need to notice the good in people, and try to let go of the bad.

4) Disqualifying the Positive: Rhonda just had her portrait made. Her friend tells her how beautiful she looks. Rhonda brushes aside the compliment by saying that the photographer must have touched up the picture. She never looks that good in real life, she thinks.
     a. Truth: Notice the good! If someone compliments you, just accept it.

5) Jumping to Conclusions: Chuck is waiting for his date at a restaurant. She’s now 20 minutes late. Chuck laments to himself that he must have done something wrong and now she has stood him up. Meanwhile, across town, his date is stuck in traffic.
     a. Truth: When something goes wrong, don’t necessarily assume it is your fault. Things happen—assume the best.

6) Magnification and Minimization: Scott is playing football. He bungles a play that he’s been practicing for weeks. He later scores the winning touchdown. His teammates compliment him. He tells them he should have played better—the touchdown was just dumb luck.
     a. Truth: You are just as responsible for the good stuff that happens as for the bad stuff! Focus on the good!

7) Emotional Reasoning: Laura looks around her untidy house and feels overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. She feels that it’s hopeless to even try to clean.
     a. Truth: Try to not become overwhelmed by emotions. Think to yourself, “Is this really hopeless? Or will it just take a while?” Make an effort to view the situation objectively.

8) Should Statements: David is sitting in his doctor’s waiting room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing, thinking, “With how much I’m paying him, he should be on time. He ought to have more consideration.” He ends up feeling bitter and resentful.
     a. Truth: Things happen to people that are sometimes unavoidable. As in #5, assume the best! Assume he has a good reason for being late.

9) Labeling and Mislabeling: Donna just cheated on her diet. “I’m a fat, lazy pig,” she thinks.
     a. Truth: We all make mistakes. Focus on the action, and not the person. “I should not have eaten that food, but I can still accomplish my weight goals.

10) Personalization: Jean’s son is doing poorly in school. She feels that she must be a bad mother. She feels that it’s all her fault that he isn’t studying.
     a. We can only control our own behavior. While we can have influence on others, if someone else is doing badly, it isn’t our fault.

Next time you have a negative reaction to news or an event, ask yourself if your thinking fits one of the above examples. Then challenge that thinking, and consider other ways of looking at the situation.

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