Let’s say we are all sitting in a semi-circle around a table in the same art class. There’s a bowl of fruit laid out on the table for us to draw. We all have the same materials- an easel, blank paper, the same brand of pencils. With these similarities in place, would we all end up with the same drawing?
Perhaps it goes without saying that despite having the same subject to draw and the same tools, none of our drawings would look the same. Even if we place drawing ability aside, by merely sitting in different positions around the room we are all going to see and highlight different aspects of the composition.
Similarly, our thoughts colour our experiences of the same event. For example, two people could both see the same dog. One might feel very warmly towards him, viewing him as a furry friend. The other might feel a little panic, triggered by an incident from childhood. Same dog. Very different emotional experiences. And, very possibly, two very different behavioural responses of either approach or avoidance.
When it comes to depression, anxiety, or other enduring states of emotional discomfort, the feelings that can cause individuals so much distress can often originate from and be maintained by habitual patterns of thinking. Depending on who you consult, these self-defeating patterns of thinking go by different terms such as cognitive distortions, limiting beliefs, stinky thinking, negative automatic thoughts, etc.
One tip for breaking old habits is to write down your upsetting thoughts. Write down where you are (or were), how you were feeling, and the thoughts associated with those feelings. It is helpful to actually write down the thought rather than just taking mental notes. After all, if you are finding the thought distressing, it is likely the thought has already been rolling around in your head for some time. By putting thoughts to paper it becomes easier to identify what is at the heart of your distress. Overtime, it becomes easier to see the patterns in the thinking traps that you tend to fall into. Furthermore, by writing down your thoughts it becomes easier to critically examine and defeat (or gracefully accept) them.
Stay tuned for future posts as we delve deeper into the ten main distortions as well as some tips for managing them. You absolutely have the power to change the picture you create. That is, if you think you can.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is intended for general use. It is not intended to provide specific recommendations for your situation. If you or someone you love are suffering, please reach out for support from a licensed health professional, access community support such as calling the Alberta Health Services mental health line (1-877-303-2642), the mental health crisis line through HealthLine (1-888-737-4668), or contacting the distress centre at (403) 266-1601. If you need urgent help and are afraid for your own or someone else’s safety, call 911 or go to your nearest hospital.
Burns, David. (1999). Feeling Good, the New Mood Therapy. Harper Collins, NY.