Your Thoughts Are Not You

Many people mistake their thoughts for reality. This is absolutely fine if you are a confident person with lots of self esteem. You look in the mirror and think ‘hey, looking good’ or read a book and think ‘boy, I’m so smart’. However, for a lot of us this isn’t the case. Often when I look in the mirror I’ll think ‘I’m so fat and quite hideous’. When a friend doesn’t reply to a text I’ll get anxious and wonder if I’ve done something wrong. This would be fine if it only happened once in a while, but when it happens day in day out the negative voices in your head become quite deafening. You believe them. You mistake them for the truth. When someone pays you a compliment you disregard it. ‘They must feel sorry for me.’ When someone criticises you you believe the criticism and take it incredibly personally, whilst also thinking ‘you can’t hate me any more than I hate myself’.

I am lucky. It has taken me 39 years but I finally realise that my thoughts are not real. They are just a product of my brain. They are not the truth. So now when I feel they are negative or spiralling out of control, I take myself out, sit down and write them down, work out how they are dysfunctional and replace them with a more rational thought. Let me give you a scenario:

Scenario: My friend hasn’t replied to my text

Automatic Thought: Why would they? Why would anyone ever like you? You don’t deserve to have any friends.

How you feel: Worthless.

Rational Thought: They are probably busy. They will reply when they have time. Sometimes it takes you a while to reply to texts too.

How you feel now: A lot happier.

We would never allow anybody to talk to our friends in the way our negative thoughts talk to us. If we let this negative self talk spiral out of control it can lead to severe depression. When I feel my own mind wandering in this direction I do lots of things:

Get fresh air

Do exercise

Treat myself: a coffee, paint my nails, buy a magazine, go shopping

Do CBT exercises

Drink a lot of water

Digitally unplug

Below I have listed some of the negative thought patterns that people have which can lead to depression. If you can recognise these you are able to realise that your thoughts can’t control you and will be a lot happier. Remember, most grown ups don’t play tricks on one another. Don’t let your brain play tricks with you.

10 Distorted Thinking Patterns (Cognitive Distortions)

Here are the 10 distorted thinking patterns according to Dr. Burns.  Burns writes:

  1. All-Or-Nothing Thinking – You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  2. Overgeneralization – You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. Mental Filter – You pick out a single negative defeat and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that colors the entire beaker of water.
  4. Disqualifying the positive – You dismiss positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  5. Jumping to conclusions – You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
    A. Mind reading. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.
    B. The fortune teller error. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  6. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization– You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
  7. Emotional Reasoning – You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.
  8. Should Statements – You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  9. Labeling and Mislabeling – This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a goddam louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  10. Personalization – You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

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