Negative Automatic Thoughts Causing Depression

Negative automatic thoughts and thought traps may cause depression. We will look at your thoughts and try to move away from this predetermined pattern that only makes things more difficult.

So far, we have come almost full circle in looking at the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that affect us when dealing with various problems in life and which contribute to your depression. We are going to focus on thinking and how non-effective thinking can affect us, and even make us feel worse. We are also going to look at the subconscious effects that problematic thinking patterns can have, and look at how positive and realistic thinking really can automatically help improve your frame of mind and help you overcome depression.

Damaging negative automatic thoughts

Thinking is something that we all do. We constantly reach conclusions using a variety of different thinking habits, which in some cases can be negative. When used too often and they can be extremely unhelpful as they skew our perspectives without us knowing. Overall, human beings think in remarkably different ways, and there are many different descriptions we use to describe our thought conclusions: like making a mountain out of a mole hill, a crisis out of nothing, letting something get to you, or taking things personally.

Negative automatic thoughts are realizations or thoughts that tend to jump into one's head automatically, hence their name. But, generally, when we are suffering a bad experience, these negative automatic thoughts tend to be extreme and extremely unhelpful. They are often skewed and present a vision of something that isn't entirely true. Negative automatic thoughts are such a natural part of our consciousness that we don't even notice them and therefore they can be hard to detect. But it is crucial that you know what your most common negative automatic thoughts are, since they control many of your reactions and cause your depression.

Like many things, negative automatic thoughts tend to have a trigger that predicates our response according to our beliefs. Memories, images, sounds, smells, almost anything can trigger our automatic response system. By noticing these thoughts and their "triggers" you can effectively start to understand how they are leading to a specific emotion in regards to the experience, and judge whether or not that belief is valid and effective, or unhelpful and causing problems. After all, the way we deal with events is what causes us to experience emotions, i.e. the meanings we assign to things predetermines the way we feel and behave about something.

Identifying your negative automatic thoughts

You are now going to identify your negative automatic thoughts. If you have difficulties coming up with examples of your negative automatic thoughts start by thinking about your depression and about a certain negative event that triggers your depression. Try to re-experience this event as much as possible and see which negative thoughts are popping up in your head automatically - these are your negative automatic thoughts. "Brainstorm" as many different negative automatic thoughts as you feel. When describing a trigger, be as specific as possible. What happened? When? Where? Who else was there? As mentioned earlier, the trigger can be anything, for example memories, images, sounds, smells or a specific situation.


Trigger
What specific situation triggered your depression? Be as specific as possible.
- I didn't get a promotion at work, John did.
- The whole office was full when our boss announced that John was going to be the new product manager.
Negative automatic thought
What was your negative automatic thought in that specific situation? Be as specific as you can be.
- My boss doesn't like me. He thinks that I'm bad at doing my job.
- I never get acknowledgment for all of my hard work.
- All my colleges think that John is a better worker and colleague than me.
How strongly do you believe in your thought? (0-100) 100 = completely, 0 = not at all. Your answer should be based on how you felt in the specific situation about your thought, not how you feel about it when you have had time to cool down. - 100
Emotion: What was your feeling? - I felt very hurt and depressed.
- I felt embarrassed.
- I absolutely didn't feel happy for John.

Thought traps

Now you have identified some of your most significant negative automatic thoughts by looking at trigger scenarios. However, negative automatic thoughts aren't just things that occur when you're feeling depressed but they are things that everybody experiences from time to time.

Negative automatic thoughts can lead to thought traps, because they are often distorted and don't take all the facts into consideration. You can say that negative automatic thoughts are common thoughts traps that lead to falsification of reality. You lock yourself into your own way of thinking which often leads to overreactions such as depression. Even if thought traps aren't always problematic, it's a good idea to pay attention to them and gradually learn how to deal with them.

Falling into thought traps, or shall we say, ineffective and problematic thinking, is a common trait amongst us: so much so that there is a great deal of proof that no-one is an efficient thinker. As we have seen, CBT can help us by teaching us how to think effectively and objectively about our behaviors and emotions, and stop thinking from a skewed or unrealistic perspective. By organizing one's thinking patterns we can make our lives both a whole lot simpler and also a great deal more stress free.

The general consensus by studies is that these are the most common thought mistakes, so take a look below and have a go at understanding what they are, and why they are labeled as thought traps.

Catastrophization - this is when you are immediately expecting the worst imaginable scenario from a relatively trivial incident. You underestimate your possibilities and your capability of handling the situation. For example: "I didn't mean to make a spelling mistake, it's all over!!"

Think less catastrophically Imagine a situation that normally triggers your catastrophic thinking. What proofs supports your catastrophic conclusion?

What disproofs can you find?

What would be a more objective and accurate/less catastrophic conclusion about the situation?

Extreme thinking - this is when you see everything as good or bad. This is "black and white thinking"; there are no gray areas. For example: "It rained one day out of ten, the trip was a disaster!"

Think in a more balanced way Imagine a situation that normally triggers your extreme thinking. What proofs supports your conclusion that the aspect you are focusing on really is the most important one? What disproofs can you find? What would be a more correct value to give the aspect when thinking about the overall situation? What are the other aspects of the situation that can help you view the situation more realistically? Thinking now about all the other aspects, what is a more balanced value to give the whole situation?

Demanding - Making demands is a thought trap when you expect yourself and others to follow your rules and when you get emotionally bothered when things don't go your way. For example: "It's so impolite to not pull out the chair for a woman; I can't stand men that don't do that!"

Be less demanding What kind of language are you using (both in your head and when talking to other people)? Are you using rigid thinking like "must", "have to"? Do you accept that people follow their own rules and that things won't always go your way? Are your demands realistically? Are they helping you or are they unhelpful? How can you turn your demands into preferences, and still keep your standards and ideals?

Predictive thinking - this is when you make predictions about the future and believe that these are true, which in turn prevents you from taking action. For example: "If I ask to borrow money, my friend will say no."

Think in a less predictable way Imagine a situation that normally triggers your predictive thinking. What situations from the past may affect the way you think this future event will develop? What are the proofs that support that your prediction will in fact happen? What are the disproofs? Are the risks too high, or can you risk taking actions despite your negative predictions? What would you gain by doing so?

Mind reading - this is when you assume that people are thinking negative and judgmental things about you. For example: "A person on the bus glanced at me and looked irritated; he must be thinking something negative about me".

Do less mind reading Is there any possibility that your mind reading assumptions could be wrong? What are some alternate explanations? How can you test to see if your mind reading is true?

Emotive interpretation - this is when, just because you feel a certain way, you believe that this feeling must be true. For example: "He's looking at another girl; this makes me feel jealous. I know he's having an affair."

Make fewer emotive interpretations Imagine a situation where you feel a certain way and therefore believe that this feeling must be true. How might your feelings lead you into distorting facts? What facts are you maybe ignoring due to your strong emotions? If you gave yourself time to calm down before drawing conclusions, how would you view the situation in a more accurate way?

Labeling - this when you label yourself and others when things don't go your way. For example: "I missed one exam. I'm totally useless when it comes to school."

Do less labeling Think of labels that you give yourself and others. Are you being fair when applying these labels? What proofs and disproofs support that these labels as correct? Are these labels preventing you from seeing other, more complex, aspects of yourself and others? Can you label a specific situation instead of labeling yourself or others? How would you do this?

Selective Observation - this means that you only process information that supports your view of yourself and others. For example: You have the belief that you are a failure and you only focus on the information that supports this and filters the information that points out the opposite.

Non-selective thinking What part of your life are you particularly mentally filtering? What information is your selective thinking stopping you from seeing? If you started thinking non-selectively what would you gain from it?

Anti-Positive - this means that you turn something positive into something negative. For example: "She asked me out on a date; she must feel sorry for me".

Think more positively

What positive feedback have you got from people around you?

When you get a positive feedback from others, how do you respond? Do you believe the person giving the feedback? How will acknowledging positive feedback from others help you?

Personalization - this is when you blame yourself for everything bad that has happened around you, even in situations that you're not responsible for, and therefore you take everything personal. For example: "The train is late, so I won't be able to meet my friends... it's all my fault, they will hate me."

Think more objectively What else could have contributed to the outcome of the situation? What else could have contributed to how other people reacted? Try to look on the situation from an outsider perspective; are you really the one who has the personal responsibility for the outcome of the situation?

Your top five thought traps Choose the top five thought traps described above that you want to focus on to improve. By identifying these you can enhance your chances of catching yourself in the act and strive to correct this problematic thinking.

Challenging your problematic thinking

You are now going to focus on how you can challenge your negative automatic thoughts and thought traps and how you can change them into a better way of thinking. You are, for example, going to write proofs that supports, and proofs that go against, your negative automatic thought and come up with an alternative and more positive thought.

When writing down the proofs supporting your negative automatic thoughts think about what is making you think that your negative automatic thoughts are true? Do you think that everybody would see them as proofs? Try to only include objective facts. In the beginning this will probably be difficult for you and you will confuse facts with faulty interpretations.

Looking at the disproofs; what proofs go against the idea that your negative automatic thoughts are true? This can be hard since when we think negative thoughts we seek information that confirms them. But the key to changing your problematic thinking is being able to see what's going against your proofs. To see if your negative automatic thought comports with the reality, find believable disproofs, to see if there is any alternative point of views you can use the following questions:

- What do objective facts say? - Has what you fear ever happened? If so, what can you learn from prior experiences?
- If you look back on the situation in five years' time, do you think that you will look at it differently?
- How would another person look at the situation?
- When you don't have all these strong emotions, do you think differently on the situation?
- Does your thought fit in with any of the thought traps described earlier? That is, maybe your thought isn't true but instead an example of you getting caught into a disadvantageous thought trap.

When you have written down your negative automatic thoughts proofs and disproofs you will come to realize that sometimes the proofs for your negative automatic thoughts aren't as strong as you have imagined and that your depression is based on some very shaky ground. In this case, write down a sound alternate thought. If the proofs both confirm and contradict your negative automatic thought, write down a balanced thought that sums up the proofs for and against your negative automatic thought.


Trigger
What specific situation triggered your depression? Be as specific as possible.
- I didn't get a promotion at work, John did.
- Everybody was in the office when our boss announced that John was going to be the new Product Manager.
Negative automatic thought
What was your negative automatic thought in that specific situation? Be as specific as you can be.
- My boss doesn't like me; he thinks that I am bad at doing my job.
- I never get acknowledgment for all of my hard work.
- All my colleagues think that John is a better worker and colleague than me.
How strongly do you believe in your thought?
(0-100) 100 = completely, 0 = not at all.
Your answer should be based on how you feel in the specific situation about your thought, not how you feel about it when you have had time to cool down.
- 90
Emotion: What were your feelings? - I felt very hurt and depressed.
- I felt embarrassed.
- I absolutely didn't feel happy for John.
Proofs:
What proofs supports your negative automatic thought?
- Looking at it objectively, John getting the promotion instead of me must mean that our boss thinks that John is, in one way or another, more suitable for the job than me.
Disproof:  What proofs go against your negative automatic thought being true? John has worked in the company longer then me and the other s aspiring to the position.
John has more suitable skills th an me or the others.
I have been acknowledged for my hard work on prior occasions.
I've probably got into the "extreme thinking" thought trap. Just because I didn't get the position it doesn't mean that my boss or my colleges do n't like me.
How strongly do you believe in your disproofs?
(0-100) 100 = completely, 0 = not at all.
90
Alternative thought: John getting the promotion instead of me must mean that our boss thinks that John is more suitable for the job than the rest of us. But it does not exclusively mean that our boss doesn't like me.
There were a lot of other people that also didn't get the promotion. A more accurate explanation of why John got the promotion is that he simply had the right qualification for it.
How strongly do you believe in your negative automatic thought now?
Has your thought changed compared with what you answered in step 3? (0-100) 100 = completely, 0 = not at all.
- 1

Now it's your turn. Choose one or a few of the negative automatic thoughts that you identified earlier to work with. Your answers will be more truthful and helpful if you record them when you're in the middle of a situation that has triggered your depression, not at a time when you have had time to cool down. Therefore, always have a notebook with you so that you can write down your negative automatic thoughts in a depression-creating situation. Since your new alternative thoughts aren't automatic like your old negative ones are, it will take time and practice getting used to this new way of thinking. Remember, the more truthful you are, the better the results and the more likely you are to overcome depression!

Current comments: 1
Wajasay
I like my negative thoughts they remind me of how good my positive ones are.
Negative thoughts keep the mind in problem solving mode.
Imagine a mind with only positive thoughts.
No problems no solving = A HAPPY brainless sponge.
So what I am trying to say is Nearly happy nearly unhappy is the way to go.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars!3 out of 5 stars!
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