Challenging Negative Thoughts :
This article examines how we can use cognitive behavioral therapy to challenge our negative thoughts.
When we have negative thoughts, it is important to ask ourselves:
‘What is the evidence to support this negative thought/belief?’ OFTEN, WILL WILL FIND THERE IS VERY LITTLE OR AT LEAST NOT THE COMPELLING EVIDENCE WE’D ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED.
It is important for us to get into the habit of challenging negative thoughts in this way because very often the negative thoughts come to us automatically (due to entrenched negative thinking patterns caused in large part by our traumatic childhoods) without us analyzing them and examining them to see if they are actually valid.
So, to repeat, we need to try to get into the habit of CHALLENGING OUR NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND ASKING OURSELVES IF THERE REALLY IS PROPER EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THEM.
A SUGGESTED EXERCISE FOR CHALLENGING NEGATIVE THOUGHTS :
1) Think of two or three negative thoughts that you have experienced lately.
2) Ask yourself what evidence you have to support them.
3) Ask yourself how strong this evidence actually is.
4) Now think of evidence AGAINST THE NEGATIVE THOUGHT.
Step 4 above is very important. This is because when we are depressed and have negative thoughts we tend to focus on the (often flimsy) evidence which supports them BUT IGNORE ALL THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THEM (in other words, we give ourselves an ‘unfair hearing’ and, in effect, are prejudiced against ourselves). This is sometimes referred to as CONFIRMATION BIAS.
Challenging our negative thoughts and FINDING EVIDENCE TO REFUTE THEM is a very important part of CBT. It is, therefore, worth us putting in the effort to search hard for evidence that weakens or invalidates our automatic negative thoughts/beliefs.
When we have successfully challenged our negative thoughts and found, by reviewing the evidence, reason not to hold them anymore, it is useful to replace them with MORE REALISTIC APPROPRIATE THOUGHTS.
One way to get into the habit of this is to spend a little time occasionally writing down our automatic negative thoughts. Then, for each thought, we can write beside it:
1) Evidence in support of the negative thought.
2) Evidence against the negative thought.
3) In the light of the analysis carried out above in steps 1 and 2, replace it with a more realistic, valid and positive thought. Here is an example:
Negative Thought: I failed my exam which means I’m stupid and will never get the job I wanted or any other.
1) Evidence in support of negative thought:
‘after a lot of revision, I still didn’t pass.‘
2) Evidence against negative thought:
‘I only failed by a couple of percents and was affected by my nerves – failing one exam does not make me stupid’.
3) Alternative, more valid, realistic, and positive thought:
‘I can retake the exam and still get the job. Even if I don’t get my first choice of job, that does not mean there won’t be other jobs I can get, and they may turn out to be better.’
Getting into the habit of occasionally writing down negative thoughts, challenging them, and coming up with more positive alternative thoughts will help to ‘reprogram’ the brain not to just passively accept the automatic negative thoughts which come to us without subjecting them to scrutiny and challenging their validity.
USEFUL LINK: NHS INFORMATION ABOUT COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY.
David Hosier BScHons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).