We can learn to manage our thoughts in effective and healthy ways, which includes observing them, honoring them, altering them, or completely re-vamping them where necessary. We will never rid ourselves of our thoughts – the only way to do that is to auger out our brains. Our thoughts, like our emotions, are a valuable and necessary part of us. We just need to understand how to work with them.
Being able to identify a pattern of thought that is harmful to us, is essential. It allows us the opportunity to change the underlying fear that created the pattern or thought in the first place. It can be easy to identify statements like “I’m worthless” or “I always screw everything up” or “I’ll never get a job” as ones that are destructive to our psyche. But not all harmful thoughts are negative statements. We can do plenty of damage to ourselves with positive statements, especially if they are delusional in nature or if they are telling us a story that isn’t true.
We fall into these “cognitive traps” without realizing that we’re the ones who have perpetuated them. These traps take our locus of control away from us and disempower us by removing our ability to change our situation. They create an unrealistic worldview that we then become powerless to change. It’s time for us to take that power back. We do that by being able to recognize these traps in thinking so that we can change them.
Some Common Cognitive Traps:
Weaving a tale about our experience that isn’t true in an attempt to make ourselves feel either better or worse.
A form of storytelling. Making a mountain out of a molehill in order to mental “prepare” ourselves for a future negative outcome.
A form of storytelling and the polar opposite of catastrophizing, where we diminish the impact that an experience has on us.
Unrealistic Positivity or Negativity
A form of storytelling, where we put either an excessively positive spin on an experience or we focus only on the negative and discount the positive.
Words like Good, Bad and Should
Inevitably, the use of these words leads us to judgments and rejections.
The Idea of Normal
This is yet another concept that encourages us to judge ourselves based upon the standard of another. There is no such thing as normal.
An End Goal
There is no end of point of achievement or arrival – only a continuum.
Our need to justify or rationalize bad situations or experiences can be detrimental to our psyche, to our healing process, and it enables horrible behaviors to continue. We are always capable of making better choices.
This is when we believe that how we feel must be an objective truth versus a subjective experience. For example, if we feel unattractive, we believe that that must be true.
We feel hopeless when we can’t see our way out of something. But just because we can’t see the way, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Black and White Thinking
This is an all-or-nothing lens through which we can view the world, where nuances and shades of grey do not exist.
For example, a dog bite in childhood amounts to “all dogs are vicious and bad.” It is a form of black and white thinking.
Jumping to Conclusions
A form of overgeneralization, where we form a conclusion without sufficient evidence to support it.
Karma & the World Rewarding Good Deeds
Do you cut your neighbor’s lawn because you want to genuinely help them? Or because you’re trying to secure some good karma for yourself? Our concept of karma in this Western world has been skewed. It does not work that way.
You Create Your Reality
We do not live in a vacuum. We are part of a society and of a world that also determines our reality.
A Fair World
Similar to the concept of Karma, this is the unrealistic belief that the world operates upon a system of fairness.
A Sense of Entitlement
Similar to A Fair World, this is a sense that the world owes us something.
Looking for the lessons or the learning or the embedded meaning in everything.
**Instead of focussing on whether or not a thought is positive or negative, ask yourself: “Is this thought helping me, or hindering me?”
Helpful Tools (OCDR):
Observation / Mindfulness – observing your thoughts as they happen.
Cognitive traps – recognizing a trap when it occurs & changing the pattern.
Dismantling – using critical thinking / logic / reason to question the validity of and deconstruct the harmful thought.
Reframing – reforming the thought into a helpful statement versus a harmful one.
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