Most of the time we don’t think about how we think! We just do it.
Thoughts seem to drift in and drift out again without much intervention from us. And most of the time we are happy that way!
But sometimes our thoughts do not make us happy. Negative thoughts can make us feel miserable and very unhappy.
Our thoughts may keep us awake at night and they can intrude into our days. They can make us feel angry and sad.
Sometimes the thoughts in our head leave us with unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings about ourselves, the people about us and the world in general.
Our thoughts can mean we focus on the negative even when there is very strong evidence that we are, and everything about us is, basically OK.
Over the next few posts here, we are going to explore some ways that we think negatively and how you might be able to make some changes.
Here are my first three ways of thinking negatively; “overgeneralising”, “labelling” and “personalising”.
This is when we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence.
Something bad happens once, so we expect it to happen over and over again.
Someone may see a single, unpleasant event which then becomes part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.
For example, a young man asked a girl out and she turned him down. He felt lonely, unwanted and rejected. So he went on to think he would never be able to have a girlfriend as girls did not find him attractive. It wasn’t true of course; it was just the girl already had a boyfriend.
Words that indicate you may be overgeneralising are
- · all,
- · every,
- · none,
- · never,
- · always,
- · everybody,
- · everything ,
- · nobody.
If you find yourself using these kinds of words often, think about what you would say to a friend who said the same thing. Think of the advice you would give. Now try to follow your advice and intervene whenever you find yourself using words like “I never” or “I always” negatively about yourself.
This is really a very extreme form of overgeneralisation.
Sometimes we describe behaviour, our own or other peoples in absolute and unalterable terms.
For example when we call ourselves "Stupid" or say that we or someone else is "Totally Hopeless" or a "Failure"!
The trouble is once give, the label sticks.
If a label is given on the basis of perhaps one mistake or one failure, it can alter the way we see ourselves or someone else for a very long time.
This kind of thinking distorts the truth. It is particularly dangerous when used in anger by parents or teachers about children.
If we label ourselves, it can mean that we are not able to see ourselves any other way.
Here again, it is useful to think about the words we use and the evidence for what we are saying. This kind of language usually starts out being used emotionally. It helps to calm down and think about the standard that we have applied to ourselves or to someone else. Is it realistic?
When you find yourself thinking this way, intervene and remember things do go wrong sometimes; we all make mistakes. We are all human and we are entitled to get things wrong sometimes – that doesn’t mean we are failures.
This is usually where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to them.
We compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking.
So, when something negative happens, we may think we are solely responsible for the unpleasant event. But, there may be no real evidence for this at all.
We may try to carry the weight for everything that goes wrong; everything is related to some deficiency or inadequacy in us.
Again, it is time to think through the evidence. What really happened and what part did others play? Perhaps something just happened and no one was responsible.
Sometimes it helps to talk to someone we trust to get a clear view!
You will probably find that you should only take a share in the blame or you may find you are not responsible for what happened at all.
I’ll tackle some more ways of thinking negatively in the next post.
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