“Thinking is the greatest torture in the world for most people.” -Voltaire
I have heard a client wish out loud for the ability to think only positive thoughts. That sounds like something good to wish for, but it isn’t. Being only positive is unhealthy. Negative thoughts can protect or defend us from something which is too good to be true. Some negative thoughts are an asset in difficult experiences, helping us understand the personal impact.
There are times when negative thoughts turn into a pattern of negativity. The shift may be unnoticeable to the person who is well practiced at beating himself up inside his head. Catching this pattern before it solidifies into a character trait may require feedback from others, self-education, and counseling. Many therapists are trained to help you recognize the distortions which keep you stuck in an unpleasant pattern.
Dr. David Burns provides a list of Cognitive Distortions, negative thinking patterns, which occur automatically but can be replaced by rational thoughts. “When you’re upset, your negative thoughts will chase each other around in your mind in endless circles. Once you get them down on paper, you develop a more objective perspective.”
The Cognitive Distortions Checklist from, The Feeling Good Handbook, is used as a way to assess which distortions are happening within your negative thoughts. You may have one distortion which you use most but you may also use a few different distortions at the same time. Any distortion you identify as part of your negative pattern can be stopped.
Cognitive Distortions Checklist:
1. All-or-nothing thinking: Absolute black and white categories.
2. Overgeneralization: A negative event is perceived as never-ending.
3. Mental Filter: Filter out the positives and dwell on the negatives.
4. Discounting the positives: Insist that positive outcomes or qualities “don’t count.”
5. Jumping to conclusions: (A) Mind reading using a negative filter.
(B) Misfortune-telling-predicting things will turn out badly.
6. Magnification or minimization: Blowing something out of proportion or shrinking it.
7. Emotional reasoning: Becoming the feeling. “I feel stupid, so I must be stupid.”
8. “Should statements”: Use “should,” “must,” “ought,” and “have to,” in a critical way.
9. Labeling: Personify your shortcomings. “I’m a loser.”
10. Personalization: Blame yourself totally when you are not the only one at fault. Blame others and overlook your contribution to the problem.
One Thing to Do: Write down some of the negative thinking you have used recently. Then using the checklist to identify which distortion underlies the thoughts you are having. The last step is to look at the distortion and replace it with rational thought.
Dawna Daigneault, ED.S., LPC.