Negative thoughts can be triggered by certain people, a situation, a feeling, or they can feel automatic, to the point where it feels we have no control over them. They can also have a negative impact on our views of our own selves as well as our views of others and the world itself. While it may seem impossible to stop those negative thoughts from intruding our minds at times, there are ways that we can decrease those thoughts that pop into our heads regardless of the trigger or the thoughts being involuntary.
The first step is to identify those negative thoughts and to identify when they occur, if there is any trigger. Sometimes those thoughts may come from our subconscious and be automatic, so it may not seem like there is a specific trigger that sets those thoughts off. With that being said, really try to identify anything that may contribute to those negative thoughts or may add “fuel” to them. Identify where they are coming from and how long they have been happening; is this something you’ve been thinking for years or is this a recent negative thought that popped into your head due to a recent event? Figuring out what those thoughts are and where they come from is key in figuring out how to address and stop them from continuing further.
The next step is to start challenging those thoughts. Once you’ve figured out what those negative, sometimes automatic, thoughts are, then we can focus on dissecting those thoughts, analyzing them, and challenging them to see if there is any validity behind them. Our negative thoughts oftentimes are just opinions we have rather than actual facts; remember, just because you have a thought does not make it true. It’s important to challenge these thoughts instead of blindly believing them without the full evidence or information. When a negative thought pops into your head, like for example “I’m a failure, I’m so stupid,” ask yourself the following questions:
- What evidence do I have that supports this thought?
- What evidence do I have that contradicts this thought?
- Is this thought a fact or an opinion?
- Am I interpreting this situation or scenario with all the evidence or information?
- Could I be misinterpreting any of the facts?
- Would someone outside of this situation (like a friend) view this situation differently? What might those different perspectives look like?
- Am I entertaining this thought out of habit? Or do the facts truly support this thought?
- How likely is this scenario? Is this the worst-case scenario? What would the best-case scenario and most-likely scenario look like?
Once you’ve asked yourself those questions, how are you feeling about that thought or scenario now? Some questions may not apply to all thoughts or scenarios, and this isn’t going to stop you from never having negative thoughts again. The goal is by challenging those thoughts and the validity of them, we can reduce the negative emotions, reactions, and behaviors that can come with those thoughts. Sometimes we’ve been in the habit of thinking negatively for so long, it’s hard to break that habit. By starting and continuing to question and challenge thoughts as they come up, we get into a healthier habit, and it can start becoming easier and more natural to question those negative thoughts, instead of automatically believing them.
Emily Blair, ALMFT