How Automatic Negative Thoughts Ruin our Relationships and How to Stop it.
An automatic thought is a thought that pops up in our minds without our permission or awareness. Automatic thoughts are the product of our core beliefs, everything we have been taught since our childhood by our parents, teachers and society in general. They are not necessarily bad but when left unchecked, they can ruin our relationships and make our lives very hard. An example of a healthy automatic thought is when you are walking alone at night in an isolated area and you have the automatic thought of “be careful” which leads to you walking faster and more conscious of your surroundings. This type of thought keeps you safe. On the other hand, a negative automatic thought will look like this: You agreed to meet your boyfriend for brunch at 2pm and it is 2:25pm and he has not shown up and is not picking up your calls. Your automatic thought is “he doesn't care about me, I am sure he forgot” and then you find out he had left his keys inside his car along with his cell phone and was trying to open the car. Then you feel guilt and shame for having thought so many bad things about your boyfriend and so the vicious cycle begins. Many couples have relationship problems because they are constantly coming up with negative conclusions and assumptions about their partner. Most people believe that their thoughts are real and therefore they act on them.
How to avoid negative automatic thoughts ruling our lives
The first step is to identify and realize you are making an assumption without any evidence. You need to learn the difference between thoughts and reality. Just because you think you are a dog does not make you a dog. Just because you have a thought it does not mean it is real. Reality and thoughts are two different things. Before acting on your negative automatic thoughts, ask yourself if you have evidence that proves your assumption. Unfortunately, many people are normally assuming the worst case scenario without any piece of evidence. Get into the habit of disputing your own negative thoughts, challenge them and do not act on them.
Another useful way to avoid falling into the trap of automatic negative thoughts is by examining the past to see if there is any evidence that supports your assumption. Is your boyfriend in the habit of not showing up to your dates? When was the last time he did not show up to your date and what was the reason?
Lastly, try to come up with an alternative thought or scenario. Instead of choosing to think that he forgot about you and does not care about you; choose to think “ maybe he is stuck in traffic. I know this is a busy intersection and it is hard to find parking”.
You can also stop and ask yourself if you are the type of person that has the tendency to jump to the worst case scenario automatically even when the chances of the worse case scenario are very low. You will be surprised to see how many people are constantly preparing for the worst case scenario and as a consequence, they live unhappy and their relationships are chaotic. These concepts are so easy that most people take them for granted because they think it is common sense, well, let me tell you that automatic negative thoughts are the leading cause of depression and anxiety. Think about it, when you are constantly expecting the worst to happen you prepare your body for fight or flight which is the emergency system of our bodies. When you put your body in fight or flight mode, you experience anxiety symptoms such as: palpitations, sweaty hands, stomach problems, dry mouth, chest pain, trembling, irritability and constant worry. When exposed for a long period of times to this emergency state, you can start experiencing depression, fatigue, poor concentration, low self esteem, crying spells, forgetfulness, and even suicidal ideations.
These techniques are not about thinking just positive all the time; they are about not reacting to your automatic thoughts unless you have solid evidence that they are true. These techniques are for you to learn to develop alternative and healthy ways of thinking and drawing conclusions. Remember, you are what you think, so choose your thoughts very carefully.