After a recent spat with my husband, I did a search online for treatments or options for those that struggle with negative thinking. In the past 10 years, I’ve struggled a lot with negative thinking. I can’t remember if it was an issue before that, but I don’t think so. Recently, I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with this behavior (see related post – Don’t Mind the Gap), but no matter how much I think about it, I can’t seem to figure out why it started or how to get over it. With the spat making it again fresh in my mind, I went to the Google, as I do for all things that really stump me. And as usual, Google had answers.
I found an article in an ADD/ADHD site on how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help reduce, and in some cases stop negativity. Although it was intended for those that develop negative thinking because of ADD and ADHD, the second page of the article hit home for me. It outlined the following list of ten types of “Toxic Thoughts,” or standard classifications for distorted and negative thinking:
- All-or-nothing thinking. You view everything as entirely good or entirely bad: If you don’t do something perfectly, you’ve failed.
- Overgeneralization. You see a single negative event as part of a pattern: For example, you always forget to pay your bills.
- Mind reading. You think you know what people think about you or something you’ve done — and it’s bad.
- Fortune telling. You are certain that things will turn out badly.
- Magnification and minimization. You exaggerate the significance of minor problems while trivializing your accomplishments.
- “Should” statements. You focus on how things should be, leading to severe self-criticism as well as feelings of resentment toward others.
- Personalization. You blame yourself for negative events and downplay the responsibility of others.
- Mental filtering. You see only the negative aspects of any experience.
- Emotional reasoning. You assume that your negative feelings reflect reality: Feeling bad about your job means “I’m doing badly and will probably get fired.”
- Comparative thinking. You measure yourself against others and feel inferior, even though the comparison may be unrealistic.
The article explained that people typically only struggle with a select few of these, and that was certainly the case for me:
All Or Nothing
I’m definitely an ‘all-or-nothing’ thinker; or ‘black-and-white’ as I hear a fair amount in the corporate world. People I meet, and ideas I hear, are usually very quickly classified as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and my inquiries stop there, which is a horrible thing, I know, and limits me in so many ways.
Magnification & Minimization
I can’t tell you how many times a day I freak out over the littlest of things. Today, as just one example, I can recall a moment when I ran upstairs to get a new outfit for the baby, only to come back to find my daughter had moved him off of his changing pad on the floor. Even though this was not a bit thing, and this was all on our safe, carpeted living room floor, I still went immediately into a big spiel about how she isn’t old enough to move the baby, and he could get hurt, blah, blah, blah. And I do this many times a day. So many, that sometimes my daughter can’t take the ridicule, and just melts down back at me. It creates a mess, and I know almost instantly after I do it that I shouldn’t.
I’m always thinking of things I admire in others, which would be fine, if I didn’t group all the things I like about everyone I know together and set that as my personal ideal. It may be possible to eat better, exercise, and lose weight at the same time, but not likely while I also attempt to do more at work, be a better wife, raise a baby, be a better mom to my daughter, and do more with my extended family and friends. This issue is not only common to me, as I discussed in a previous post, and I get that, but I still am not doing so hot at figuring out how to stop thinking this way.
This is where I got so excited about CBT. By just downloading a worksheet from a site online, and keeping handy the above types of ‘toxic thoughts’, I can record and classify my negative thoughts to validate which types I use most. Once I’ve logged and classified them, the worksheet guides me in ways to reconsider a more positive way to address each thought or situation. By doing this over and over for a time period of 12-14 weeks, it becomes a bit like Pavlov’s dog salivating over the bell, but backwards, and I can begin to truly un-train myself from these as my default thoughts.
Now, in ‘serious’ cases, it’s obviously recommended that people see a professional to do this, but if you’re a normal, every-day negative thinker like me, this might be something relatively rewarding to just try on your own. I haven’t actually started to log my own thoughts yet, but I’m really excited to see that there’s a scientific way to deconstruct and repair negative thinking. I’ve printed the worksheet, and am putting this on my personal goals to try this year.
If you’ve tried using CBT, either on your own or with a professional psychologist, I’d love to hear how it went for you.