We say things in our own heads that we would never say to other people—that we’re worthless, stupid, ugly or fat—but we allow ourselves to hear it and believe it. These negative thoughts can slowly break a person down and cause them to have low self-esteem, depression or anxiety. We see these negative thoughts as the truth when they really aren’t. A way to get past this is through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Cognitive behavioural therapy can help a person change their thought process from negative to positive. This therapy can be self-taught or done through individual or group therapy. If you choose to teach yourself, there are self-help books such as The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns. There are also resources online that can teach you about CBT such as MoodGYM. If you have trouble motivating yourself to learn and to use CBT independently, a therapist can definitely help keep you on track and help you discover what methods work best for you.
Understanding the root of negative thoughts can help rid yourself of these thoughts. This is done by tracking your negative thoughts on paper or the computer through “thought records.” You can find worksheets online that provide an outline for tracking these thoughts, such as the CBT Thought Record listed below (found on www.psychologytools.com).
Thought records generally track a scenario you were in, how you felt, what your automatic thoughts were, weighing whether there’s any validity to these thoughts, an alternative thought and how you feel after analyzing your thoughts. Filling in these sheets can take long at first, but it quickly becomes a habit. You can really see the benefits of this when looking through several of your sheets. You’ll likely find a pattern of negative thoughts that will surprise you with how frequently they appear. Hopefully, you’ll also notice that it’s difficult to find any strong proof that a negative thought is true. Over time you’re likely to have less negative thoughts and can catch them right away, changing a negative thought to an alternative one without needing a worksheet.
You can also identify the types of negative thoughts you have. Wherever you look there’ll be multiple ways of identifying these, but they all lead back to disproving your negative thought.
Types of negative thoughts
All-or-nothing thinking – You think that something must be done perfectly or else it’s a failure—there’s only good or bad. “I’m a failure because not everyone liked my presentation.”
Mind reading – The thought that you know what others are thinking. “I know they don’t like me, I can just tell.”
Emotional reasoning – The belief that how you feel is true. “I feel stupid, therefore I am stupid.”
Catastrophizing – The thought that the worst is going to happen. “If I try talking to my boss I’m going to panic and run away.”
Overgeneralizing – Thinking that since one thing turns out badly, everything does. “People always ignore me.”
Jumping to conclusions – Assuming one incident causes another. “Since I was late for work today I’m going to get fired.”
Should statements – Having expectations that things should be a certain way. “I should know the right way to approach people.”
Filtering – Discounting the positives. “I got an 80 percent on my exam, but that means I don’t know 20 percent of the material.”
Personalizing – Assuming that what someone says or does is your fault. “My husband has been drinking more, it must be something I did.”
Identifying your negative thoughts and putting them into one of these or other categories, is a way to disprove your negative thoughts. In addition to recording your automatic thoughts in your thought record, it’s also helpful to identify them. It’ll help you find proof that your negative thought is not real.
Now that I have a more positive mindset, I wonder how I was able to go so many years with negative thoughts. Of course I still get the occasional negative thought, but I know that it isn’t true. Having positive thoughts means that I’m no longer my own personal bully. It takes determination and hard work to change negative thinking that has been around for so long, but it can happen. It’s a weight off your shoulders and lets you be happy with who you are.