You have heard me talk about the brain a little bit over the years, but I want to dive a little deeper into how your brain lies to you. I want to share with you some of the things that I hear people tell themselves. Feel free to add your own spin to this too:
I know this won’t work out for me.
I don’t deserve this.
I don’t contribute anything.
I don’t like myself.
I’m never good enough.
Why does anyone love me?
I know this person doesn’t like me.
I’m so fat.
I shouldn’t eat that.
I never say the right thing. Why did I say that?
I’ll never be happy.
I’ll never have what I want.
I have no control.
I’m such a failure.
As you go on with your day, you might find that you are having negative thinking. A psychology term for that is automatic negative thoughts. Ironically the term is shortened to A.N.T.S. I almost think of it as ants in your brain taking over. The more we do it the more ants come. We create more and more neural pathways for more and more ants to develop. Here are some categories of automatic negative thoughts that we can all relate to:
Personalizing: This is when we automatically assume that something is about us, and we take it personally. One example is when a friend isn’t her chipper self, and you think you did something wrong. She didn’t sleep the night before and is exhausted and it has nothing to do with you. Do you know how often we take things personally that have nothing to do with us?
Filtering: You and your spouse could be having a wonderful day. Maybe he did ten nice things for you that day. He says one thing wrong, and you focus on that and say that your marriage is terrible. You filter out all the good stuff and focus on one bad thing that happens. Maybe you screw up once in your day and start telling yourself how terrible you are. What about all the good stuff you did?
Catastrophizing: This is when we assume the worst possible outcome. I worry too much every time my children get sick. My husband will say, “He will feel better tomorrow.” I can let my worries take over.
Polarizing: This is an all or nothing mentality. You think in black and white and have trouble seeing the gray area. This is a joke with my husband. We actually label the world as seeing pink (gray) instead of black and white. I really try to watch my language of always and never. If I say to my husband, “You never do something,” or “You always do that.” Is that accurate or am I exaggerating?
Personalizing, filtering, catastrophizing and polarizing are all examples of cognitive distortions that we have on a daily basis. This is our brain lying to us. It is causing us to see things negatively and perpetuate this cycle. Most of us are probably guilty of some of this. I see how it is a coping skill. It helps to keep you from being disappointed, helps you prepare for the worst and helps you to problem solve. However, it’s coloring your world in a negative light, and I don’t want this for any of us. If you want to think more positively, I promise you that we can work towards this together! I just read that negative thinking ages us and can cause health problems.
The first step to any change is beginning to recognize it. Start to question your thoughts. What evidence do you have? Do you think you could be wrong? Start to become aware and conscious of your thinking. It is automatic but you can start to recognize it and think about it. Ask yourself a more positive way to think about the situation. Reframe is one of my favorite words. How can you think of this positively and how can you grow from this?
I say laughing, learning, loving at the end of every blog and podcast. I want to laugh more at life. Laughter is my best medicine. I want to learn more every day. I want to learn and grow as a person on a daily basis. I want to spread love through this universe. I want to leave everyone smiling. I want to spread warmth and love and laughter. I’m not always doing this, but I am intentional about my place in this universe of ours.
I’m also learning every day how to love myself better. Not only do I want to spread the love to you, I want to spread my love to me too. Questions that help me with my thoughts: What would I tell my child? What would I tell my friend? What would I tell my spouse? What would I want my parent to say to me? What would my friend tell me?
My mom used to tell me that she was going to hand me a hammer that I could just hit myself with. This has come in handy over the years. As I talk to myself, I imagine that my thoughts are hammering me and none of us deserve that. What happened to self love and self compassion?
How can you combat negative thinking?
Become more aware and conscious of your thoughts.
Question your thoughts. Look for evidence.
Give yourself some love and compassion.
Rewind, reset and reframe!
Remember that your brain lies to you. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. You can learn to think differently and can create different neural pathways. Color your world your favorite color. My world is pink, and I want it to stay that way.
Don’t believe everything you think!
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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