From time to time we all have negative thoughts that cross our minds. However, it is up to us if we are going to challenge them or simply live with them and their consequence. Whenever a situation arises that brings up negative emotions we call that an activating event. Many people have the false notion that after an activating event occurs people that an emotional or behavioral response occurs after that. Meaning other people make you have an emotional reaction. However, there is a step in between the event that activates us and us having an emotional response. The missing step is that there is a negative automatic thought that triggers your reaction. An automatic thought is the thought that automatically occurs after an event has happened. Therefore, our thoughts behind the activating event is what cause us to experience the event positively or negatively. It is vital for you to be able to identify your negative thoughts, the feelings that follow, and understand where the thought comes from.
By the age of 8 our core beliefs about ourselves are established such as “I am good enough” or “I am unworthy”. Out of these core beliefs is how we interpret our experiences. Therefore, if you believe I am unworthy someone not holding the door open for you may be a trigger point. Once the person allows the door to slam on you your negative automatic thought maybe, “I am unworthy,” and your negative emotions will take over from there. However, it is our job to take hold of those negative thoughts and combat them instead of living with them. The key is to challenge the thought as soon as it appears to eliminate negative effects. Below are some steps to help combat negative thoughts.
1. The activating event. Describe in detail the situation that preceded your negative feelings. This helps to see if there are any patterns and what was the catalyst to unpleasant emotions or behaviors.
Example: I was at the Grocery store and someone hits their cart into my cart. The person came out of nowhere and I hurt my elbow.
2. Automatic negative thought. Cue in to the automatic negative thought about the event that led to the negative feelings or behaviors.
Example: “Obviously I am invisible.”
3. Find the source of this core belief. This negative thought is a core belief that has been establish in childhood. When did you feel this way before? Has this been a theme that you have carried in your life?
Example: When I was a child people always forgot about me when we played hide and go seek.
4. Identify the consequences. What was the emotional response or behavior that was elicited after the negative thought appeared?
Example: Emotional: I was sad, angry, and disappointed. Behavioral: I pushed their cart.
5. Challenge your negative thought. Sometimes we live with our negative thoughts. It’s time to challenge the rational of it. When we get so overwhelmed we move into fight or flight and cease thinking with the rational side of our brain. Taking time out to think about what you are thinking about helps bring your thoughts back into conscious awareness. Therefore, leading to a more rational conclusion. What is the evidence that makes your negative thought true and what is the evidence that makes your negative thought false? Many times, there is more reasoning behind the thought being false which leads to healthier thoughts and feelings
Example: Pro: The person did not see me. The person made contact with me as if I was not there. Con: The cashier greeted me as I walked in. My neighbor waved at me this morning. My spouse calls me to check in on me. My spouse always knows when I am upset.
6. Alternative thought. This will lead to a newer and healthier thought about the situation. With a new perspective you will be able to see the situation more clearly. Instead of feeling unworthy because the person did not hold the door for you, you are able to externalize the personals actions. Instead of internalizing what the person did you can say, “the person is having a bad day” or “they did not see me.”
Example: The person did not mean me any harm. They simply were not paying attention.
7. Alternative consequences. Now you will have healthier emotions and behaviors in relation to the event.
Example: Emotional: Relief Behavioral: I walk away with my head held higher.
Anytime you have an emotional shift it is important to go through the 7 steps to challenge your thought. It is key to know your triggers and be able to write them down to find any patterns. You may find a theme or pattern of “I am not good enough” or absolute thinking. Once you write out ant journal your emotions you will be able to better sort out why you are feeling the way you do and empower yourself that you can change your thoughts. There are a multitude of automatic thought records available online. Once you find the thought record write out 4 or 5 times you have had an emotional shift and follow the steps to resolve your negative thought to a healthier thought and belief about yourself.