By: Melanie Amini-Hajibashi, M.S., LPC-IT., NCC
We live with a personal narrator inside our head. A constant chatter interpreting, analyzing, and providing opinions on situations all day. Conscious thought is one of the most remarkable evolutions of human-beings. We can think before we act. The challenge with the narrator in-between our ears is that the guidance is often inaccurate, fear-based, selective, and dramatic.
In therapy, we call the faults of the narrator “cognitive distortions” or “thinking errors”. Cognitive distortions can look like focusing on the negative and disqualifying the positives. They can look like thinking inflexibility such as viewing life as either all good or all bad. We can also fall into the “shoulds” obsessing over how life “should be” instead of accepting reality as it is. We labeling ourselves. Our thoughts jump to conclusions without examining all the evidence, and we take actions personally when they have nothing to do with us.
If you are a human, chances are you experience thinking errors. One tool in therapy I use often is called, thought challenging. We write out the thought, explore the evidence for and against it, and then determine if the thought accurate and/or helpful.
For example, we may have the thought that “he or she hates me”. This can fall into a few different thinking errors including: black or white thinking, jumping to conclusions, and catastrophizing. After we have the thought, we examine the evidence for this thought. Maybe they stopped returning your phone calls? Or, at work they aren’t as friendly. After, we examine the evidence against this thought beginning the challenge. Maybe, you can remember a challenge they are facing in life. Maybe you can remember that they shared they really value your friendship but got really busy with life recently. After we have evidence for and against the thought, we choose the statement that expands the possibility for corrective thinking. “Maybe she isn’t mad at me. I know I can trust her to talk to me about how she is feeling. I know she is going through a lot right now. Maybe I’ll send a supportive text to let her know I’m here”.
However, there are times in life where our thoughts may actually be accurate. At this point, it is important to ask yourself, “is that thought helpful?”. For example, is helpful to constantly think about someone hating you or leaving you? No. It’s not. So how can we create a more empowering thought such as, “sometimes people come in our life for a reason, a season, or a lesson”.
Catching our thoughts in error always begins in with mindfulness. We are not our thoughts, but rather we HAVE thoughts. One helpful way to separate ourselves from our thoughts is called, “Mindfulness of Current Thoughts”. For example, “I am having a thought that” or “I am observing a thought that”. In these statements, we are observing that we have thoughts but we are not the thought. Another helpful way to begin separating yourself from your thoughts is imagine your thoughts drifting down a stream.
My call to action for our community is to begin challenging our thoughts and practicing observing thoughts without judgement. A thought is just a thought. We can always choose a new one, an empowering one, and a more accurate one.
If you are interested in learning more about cognitive distortions, hit me up.