Change Thoughts – Change Feelings
If you were to slow down your thoughts and really hear them as they trickle through your brain, you might hear things like, “Uncle Fred is an opinionated jerk” or “Aunt Betty always sucks the joy out of the room by talking about her aches and pains”. You might hear really negative thoughts about yourself too, “I’m such a ditz – why did I just say that? I’m sure everyone in the room is thinking about what an airhead I must be,” or “I can’t let anyone see how sad and isolated I feel this Thanksgiving – I have to put on a happy face or no one will ever want to be around me again.” Perhaps you can relate to some of these or something similar.
This year, why not arm yourself with some positive thoughts with which to replace these negative ones? Something like, “Uncle Fred sure enjoys stating his opinions emphatically – I guess he really feels like he needs to be heard,” or “Aunt Betty must feel like it helps her to talk about her aches and pains, but I don’t have to let it steal my joy”. When dealing with your negative self-thoughts try “Even though I didn’t mean to say that, I am human and I’m sure everyone in the room can relate to that,” or “Its okay to show both my positive feelings and my vulnerable feelings regardless of other’s reactions – I can be authentic and know that I’m okay.”
Cognitive Therapy teaches us to recognize our negative thought patterns and replace them with more effective thoughts. Some examples of thought distortions are as follows:
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: John recently applied for a promotion in his firm. The job went to another employee with more experience. John wanted this job badly and now feels that he will never be promoted. He feels that he is a total failure in his career.
2. Overgeneralization: Linda is lonely and often spends most of her time at home. Her friends sometimes ask her to come out for dinner and meet new people. Linda feels that that is it useless to try to meet people. No one really could like her. People are all mean and superficial anyway.
3. Mental Filter: Mary is having a bad day. As she drives home, a kind gentleman waves her to go ahead of him as she merges into traffic. Later in her trip, another driver cuts her off. She grumbles to herself that there are nothing but rude and insensitive people in her city.
4. Disqualifying the Positive: Rhonda just had her portrait made. Her friend tells her how beautiful she looks. Rhonda brushes aside the compliment by saying that the photographer must have touched up the picture. She never looks that good in real life, she thinks.
5. Jumping to Conclusions: Chuck is waiting for his date at a restaurant. She’s now 20 minutes late. Chuck laments to himself that he must have done something wrong and now she has stood him up. Meanwhile, across town, his date is stuck in traffic.
6. Magnification and Minimization: Scott is playing football. He bungles a play that he’s been practicing for weeks. He later scores the winning touchdown. His teammates compliment him. He tells them he should have played better; the touchdown was just dumb luck.
7. Emotional Reasoning: Laura looks around her untidy house and feels overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. She feels that it’s hopeless to even try to clean.
8. Should Statements: David is sitting in his doctor’s waiting room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing, thinking, “With how much I’m paying him, he should be on time. He ought to have more consideration.” He ends up feeling bitter and resentful.
9. Labeling and Mislabeling: Donna just cheated on her diet. I’m a fat, lazy pig, she thinks.
10. Personalization: Jean’s son is doing poorly in school. She feels that she must be a bad mother. She feels that it’s all her fault that he isn’t studying.
There you are at the Thanksgiving table and all your family members sit around you – slow down your thoughts, really examine them and root out any cognitive distortions. Change your thoughts – Change your feelings – Enjoy your relatives at Thanksgiving (with all their strengths and weaknesses). Blessings! – Sherry