Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors
In part 3 we covered some of the ways in which we use irrational thoughts against ourselves. In this section we will look at how we might identify our negative thoughts and how we start building a pattern of change.
Generally the first step in changing how we think is to fully understand what it is we are currently telling ourselves about others and ourselves. Back in part two I asked that you carry a notepad around and document what your thoughts are around any activating event. I would suggest doing this long term as well. Pick a time frame, say a month, were you commit to documenting your thoughts.
While it might seem easy to just jot down your thoughts, it actually isn’t at all. The problem is that our thoughts sometimes happen so quickly we don’t realize what we’ve said to ourselves. Because of this, it’s also important to take time and really try and remember what your mindset was around an activating event – after said activating event.
Let’s say you’d gotten upset about how a recent friend spoke to you. While in the moment, you are unlikely to catch your negative self talk, especially at this stage of learning. What you can do for now is once your emotional disturbance is past, but still close enough to the event time-wise that you clearly remember how things happened, sit down and think hard of exactly what was done, and how you reacted to the events.
Try to divine what it is you might have said to yourself by reliving the event in your mind slowly and seeing what you tell yourself about the event in the current moment. What you say to yourself about the event now is likely similar to what you said to yourself about the event then, although now, it’s likely watered down a bit.
By reliving things after the event, you can usually catch what it is you might have said to yourself in the moment. Write them all down. For now, it’s really important for you to go over things each and every time you are emotionally disturbed, be it by some activating event, or after you’ve gone through some depression without a known activating event.
After a month you should have good documentation about how you think about events that have happened with your involvement and how you think about yourself.
Step 2. Once that month has passed. Take some time to really examine what you’ve put down. Look for patterns in how you think about yourself, and how you think of others around you. I guarantee there will be noticeable patterns. Write out what patterns you see, then, start to address those patterns.
What do I mean by address them? Well I certainly don’t mean trying to figure out why you say what you do to yourself. The why is completely irrelevant. Irrelevant I say? Yes, irrelevant because it’s only important that we understand that these thoughts were irrational.
If I told you that my pattern of thoughts to myself were because I was beaten as a child you might feel sympathy, but the reality of the situation is that I haven’t been a child in a long time and my tormentor is no longer doing these things. Hence the negative self talk I tell myself today, which I want to attach to the past is nonsensical and irrational.
A quote of mine – The past does not define your now unless you let it. Meaning that the only way past events can affect you currently is by what you are telling yourself about those events. Let that sink in a minute.
If you change how you view those past events, they stop affecting your today.
Back on topic – So you address your patterns by looking at what they are. I might notice that I seem to really get upset that people don’t behave the way I think they should in a given situation. I might notice that I seem to often tell myself that I am not a capable person in some manner or that I am not worthy of love or affection. All of these patterns of thought are irrational. Once I have identified my most common patterns of thinking I can then start to do something about them.
I would do that by tackling them one or two at a time. I would take my most common, or common two irrational thoughts and figure out first why they are irrational. Take, for instance, telling myself I am not worthy of love. I would immediately understand that it’s irrational because that’s labeling myself for the now and future – meaning that even if at some point I could justify that statement about myself in the past (which is also not very likely) it has no bearing on who I am now because I can easily just decide to stop doing those things that I myself see as unlovable traits.
So now that I honestly know that what I have labeled myself is irrational I need to sit down and write out what I could be telling myself that is rational. For example –
I am a human, and as such I am fallible. Just because I make mistakes in life does not make me unlovable. It just makes me human. However, I can also try and make less mistakes and to treat others around me better. If I were to do so, I would probably feel better about who I am as a person.
I don’t need to explain that this is a much better thing to be telling yourself and this is rational. However don’t stop there. Don’t just write one thing to counter that particular self talk, write multiple things.
Now you have your little list of things to combat one or two of your most often said negative self-talk. Keep that list in your phone, in your wallet, somewhere near you at all times. Next time you are having an emotional disturbance were you seem to be telling yourself one of the things you’ve identified, take that list out and just read it. Over and over. You don’t have to read it immediately, but as close as possible to the event or disturbance.
Do this for the biggest one or two of your negative self-talks for a set period of time. Say two weeks. The idea here is you have to get used to saying these things to yourself….and believing it. I can’t stress enough that you also have to understand that what you are reading to yourself is true. It’s rational and true.
After that set period of time, do this for all of your patterns until you have a card, or document on your phone that tackles all of your normal negative self talk and you are in the habit of reading to yourself your rational statements soon after. An amazing thing will start to happen. Because you will be used to reading these positive things soon after you’ve said the negative…slowly you will end up just saying them in your head right after you catch yourself saying the negative.
This is how we will start teaching ourselves new habits. With time and work.
Now this is still not going to cover all the irrational beliefs that we come up with while interacting with yourself and others as often we are rather unique about how irrational we can be. However because you’ve gotten in the habit of countering your irrational beliefs already, you will be much better equipped to catch and counter related behavior.
OK we’ve set in motion how you will identify your irrational self-talk and how we can start to change them. Now let’s go back and remind you of the truth of why this is so important to do by talking about the past.
“People feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them” words from the Greek philosopher Epictetus (epik Te Tus)
Events and circumstances are not the cause of your emotions and reactions. While the past can be significant in that it can influence how you will view future events, the past itself is not the cause of your emotional responses to current events. It’s what you tell yourself about the past and how it relates to now that causes your emotional responses. If you can train yourself to change how you view past events, you can then positively influence your responses to current events that are similar.
The idea that thoughts beget emotional response even works with emotions such as fear. To fear something, you simply must be thinking of it. The cause of your fear is not the event, say a spider, or a man in a black mask, it’s what you’ve told yourself about that spider or man.
We, as humans, have a certain set of rules that we live by. These rules are, for the most part, subconscious and determine how we consciously think about an event.
For example a subconscious rule might be: I must succeed at everything I try or I am not worthy. Now when you fail a test at school, your conscious thoughts will be. I failed, so I am not a worthy person.
Our exercises before try and get your brain to challenge the irrational rules you might have.
The rules you have for yourself are likely to be general in nature and apply to a variety of situations such as you might have a rule that says ” I cannot tolerate discomfort and pain and must therefore avoid them “. This rule might apply to dentists, relationships, exercise or anything in life.
There will be some rules that are rational and helpful in life and others that are not. What we are trying to tackle here is those rules you have that are irrational and not beneficial.
According to Albert Ellis and REBT, most self defeating rules are a variation of one or more of the twelve self-defeating beliefs. For each of these twelve self-defeating beliefs there is a rational belief counterpart. Let’s end this section going over what they are.
#1. I need love and approval from those significant to me – and I must avoid disapproval from any source.
The rational belief – Love and approval are good things to have, and I’ll seek them when I can. But they are not necessities – I can survive (even though uncomfortably) without them.
#2. To be worthwhile as a person I must achieve, succeed at what ever I do, and make no mistakes.
The rational belief – I’ll always seek to achieve as much as I can – but unfailing success and competence is unrealistic. Better I just accept myself as a person, separate to my performance.
#3. People should always do the right thing. When they behave obnoxiously, unfairly or selfishly, they must be blamed and punished.
The rational belief – It’s unfortunate that people sometimes do bad things. But humans are not yet perfect – and upsetting myself won’t change that reality.
#4. Things must be the way I want them to be – otherwise life will be intolerable.
The rational belief – There is no law which says that things have to be the way I want. It’s disappointing, but I can stand it – especially if I avoid catastrophising.
#5. My unhappiness is caused by things outside my control – so there is little I can do to feel any better.
The rational belief – Many external factors are outside my control. But it is my thoughts (not the externals) which cause my feelings. And I can learn to control my thoughts.
#6. I must worry about things that could be dangerous, unpleasant or frightening – otherwise they might happen.
The rational belief – Worrying about things that might go wrong won’t stop them happening. It will, though, ensure I get upset and disturbed right now!
#7. I can be happier by avoiding life’s difficulties, unpleasantness, and responsibilities.
The rational belief – Avoiding problems is only easier in the short term – putting things off can make them worse later on. It also gives me more time to worry about them!
#8. Everyone needs to depend on someone stronger than themselves.
The rational belief – Relying on someone else can lead to dependent behavior. It is OK to seek help – as long as I learn to trust myself and my own judgment.
#9. Events in my past are the cause of my problems – and they continue to influence my feelings and behaviors now.
The rational belief – The past can’t influence me now. My current beliefs cause my reactions. I may have learned these beliefs in the past, but I can choose to analyze and change them in the present.
#10. I should become upset when other people have problems and feel unhappy when they’re sad.
The rational belief – I can’t change other people’s problems and bad feelings by getting myself upset.
#11. I should not have to feel discomfort and pain – I can’t stand them and must avoid them at all costs.
The rational belief – Why should I in particular not feel discomfort and pain? I don’t like them, but I can stand it. Also, my life would be very restricted if I always avoided discomfort.
#12. Every problem should have an ideal solution, and it is intolerable when one can’t be found.
The rational belief – Problems usually have many possible solutions. It is better to stop waiting for the perfect one and get on with the best available. I can live with less than the ideal.
I would, if I were you, study the transcript of this lesson that I will have on my Triscele Life facebook page paying close attention to the twelve self-defeating beliefs and their rational counter-parts. It will certainly help with your work to overcome your negative self-talk by giving you a leg up on rational things you can tell yourself in their place. Each and every one of us hold one or more of these beliefs at some point in our lives, but we don’t have to keep holding them. The time to change is now.
In the next section we will look closer at each belief and further examine how they might be affecting our lives.
I am Diego Abrams and this is Triscele Life and Relationships. See you for part 5.