Automatic negative thoughts can make you very unhappy when they are negative. They are especially common when you are abused. Fear, resistance to take action, passivity are the fruits of them. Fortunately you can easily challenge your negative thoughts.
David Burns (bestselling author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy teaches techniques to analyze negative thoughts, calling them distorted so you are able to be able to disarm and defeat them. One automatic negative thought can have more than one distortion, some have even all of them.Apart from naming the distortions, I will give you some tips how to deal with each or them. Here are the 10 kinds of distorted automatic negative thoughts:
1. All-or-nothing thinking
You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories. If you notice this distortion, ask yourself: “What is the other option in between available for me?” How true is the all-or-nothing scenario? Write down the answer and you will see that there are some shades of grey between your black-and-white automatic thoughts.
You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Have you forgotten about exceptions for the rule? Is it true that you always/never do something? Face the facts and write them down. Then you will see that your thought is not valid anymore.
3. Mental filter
You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives. Remove the spectacles of black focus. What would other people? Are you sure that there is no positive aspect in this situation?
4. Discounting the positives
You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count. This is similar to seeing negativity in everything. Ask yourself: “How do I know it is only a luck ?” Remember, there is always a positive aspect in everything, even in being abused.
5. Jumping to conclusions
You conclude things are bad without any definite evidence. These include mind-reading (assuming that people are reacting negatively to you) and fortune-telling (predicting that things will turn out badly). If you say that no one will love you anymore if you leave chances are that it is fortune telling. But how can you know that no one will love you if you have not tried to start a new relationship?
6. Magnification or minimization
You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance. For example, you can minimize the fact of being abused and magnify the good deeds he has done for you. Again, ask yourself:”What would my friend say then? Is it really so important/unimportant?”
7. Emotional reasoning
You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I must be one.” Well, if you can hear that many times you start projecting his words. But it is up to you how you perceive yourself. Ask yourself: “How do I know that I feel like an idiot? Who has said that (apart of the abuser)? Is it really true?”
8. “Should” statements (every other word for me)
You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “musts,” “oughts,” and “have-tos.” The truth is that you do not have to, should not, need not… You can choose. Will anything happen if you do not do something? What will be the worst thing then and is it really a disaster? Answer these questions in writing you you will take down lots of pressure from your life.
Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk” or “I’m a loser.” Well, you repeat the words heard from an abuser. But is it true? When are you NOT a jerk? What does it mean to me a jerk? What would other people say then – would they (your friends) agree? Write down the answers and read regularly.
You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that you contributed to a problem. Instead of blaming, learn. If you blame yourself for saying something which made your abuser angry, forgive yourself. You do not always have influence on the situation. But then you can take two conclusions – what to do differently and what not to do the next time. Good luck.
I am aware that working on automatic thoughts is not easy. I agree with Dr Burns that the best method to question automatic negative thoughts is a regular daily mood log, in which you describe the situation that caused stress, name your emotions, list automatic thoughts and their distortions. The last step is to find alternative thoughts, neutral or even positive.