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Blog: Transforming Negative Thoughts for Positive Outcomes

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that is most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression but is very useful for other mental health problems. CBT works on the principle that our thoughts influence our emotions and behaviours.  This approach suggests that distorted thinking patterns contribute to emotional distress and maladaptive behaviours.  Just because we think something does not always mean it is true!  Inaccurate thoughts can lead to feelings that are incongruent to the actual situation/circumstance and can lead to unhelpful choices in how we act. 


Core Components of CBT:

 

Cognitive Restructuring – this involves identifying negative or irrational thoughts, challenging their accuracy and validity, and replacing them with more balanced and rational alternatives.  You will gain insight into the way you think and may explore deeper, underlying patterns of thought that were developed throughout your life.  You will learn new skills of what to do when you notice negative thoughts. 

Behavioural Techniques – apart of from cognitive interventions, CBT incorporates behavioural strategies like exposure therapy, behavioural experiments, journaling, and skills training to modify maladaptive behaviours.


We can’t change our feelings, only our thoughts.  By changing our thoughts, we change our feelings.

 

Thoughts:                          What we think affects how we feel and act

Feelings/Emotions:          What we feel affects how we think and act

Behaviours:                        What we do affects how we think and feel and reinforces thoughts




CBT’s role in Challenging External Negativity:


CBT doesn’t solely focus on internal thought patterns; it also addresses the impact of external factors on one’s self-esteem.  Through cognitive restructuring, individuals learn to critically evaluate external feedback and develop a more balanced perspective.

 

Examples of Cognitive Restructuring: 

 

1.       Catastrophising

-          Original thought – “If I make a mistake at work, I’ll definitely get fired”.

-          Revised thought – “Making a mistake is human, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to losing my job.  I can learn from mistakes and improve”.

 

2.       All or Nothing Thinking:

-          Original thought – “If I’m not perfect in every aspect, I’m a complete failure”.

-          Revised thought – “Nobody is perfect, and it’s okay to have strengths and weaknesses.  I don’t have to excel in everything to be successful”.



The Power of Changing Negative Thoughts

 

  1. Reduction in Psychological Symptoms:  By addressing and transforming negative thought patterns, individuals often experience a significant reduction in symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders.

Example:  Consider someone who constantly thinks, “I’m worthless and will never succeed”.  Through CBT, this individual can challenge this belief by examining the evidence to the contrary, thereby fostering self-worth and optimism.

 

2.       Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills:  CBT equips individuals with effective problem solving and coping mechanisms, enabling them to navigate challenges more adeptly.

Example:  An individual plagued by catastrophic thinking, “If I make a mistake, everything will fall apart” can learn to challenge this thought, break problems into manageable pieces, and develop proactive solutions.

 

3.       Improved Relationships and Social Interactions:  By fostering healthier thought patterns, CBT can enhance interpersonal relationships, as individuals become more attuned to their emotions and responses to others’ needs


Example:  Someone with a pervasive belief that “People always reject me” can learn to challenge this assumption, cultivate healthier interpersonal skills, and build more meaningful connections.

 

4.       Empowerment and Self-Efficacy:  CBT empowers individuals by fostering a sense of control over their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, thereby bolstering self-efficacy and resilience.


Example:  Through CBT, an individual plagued by self-doubt and fear can cultivate a more empowered mindset, embracing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles.


The Impact of External Views on Self-Worth:

External Validation and Self-Perception:  External opinions, especially negative ones, can significantly influence an individual’s self-view and self-worth.  When we internalise criticism or judgment from others, it can reinforce and amplify our own negative thought patterns.

 

Example:  Imagine someone constantly receiving critical feedback at work and internalising it as a reflection of their incompetence.  This external negativity can contribute to a distorted self-perception.

 

 

Empowering Self-View Through CBT:

CBT helps individuals discern between constructive criticism and unfounded negativity.  By challenging distorted thoughts stemming from external sources, individuals can cultivate a more accurate and positive self-view.

 

Example:  A person who receives harsh criticism might initially think, “I’m a complete failure”.  Through CBT, they can question this thought, evaluate the accuracy of the criticism, and develop a more realistic and self-compassionate response, such as recognising areas for improvement without equating it to personal failure.



CBT and Social Ostracization Based on False Perceptions

 

Social Ostracization based on perceptions about one’s family can be profoundly isolating and damaging to an individual’s mental health and self-worth.  Such experiences often lead to feelings of shame, stigmatization, and distorted self-perception.  In these challenging circumstances, CBT offers a structured and evidence-based approach to help individuals navigate and mitigate the negative impacts of societal judgment.


Understanding the Impact of Ostracization:

 

1.       Emotional Distress:  Being ostracised due to family perceptions can evoke feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and loneliness.

2.       Identity Crisis:  Constant societal judgment can lead to individuals to internalise negative beliefs about themselves, causing an identity crisis and eroding self-worth.

3.       Behavioural Changes:  Ostracization can manifest in avoidant behaviours, social withdrawal, and diminished self-confidence.



How CBT Can Help:

 

Cognitive Restructuring:  CBT enables individuals to identify and challenge negative beliefs and thought patterns associated with societal judgment.  Counsellors guide clients in examining the evidence supporting these beliefs and developing more balanced and realistic perspectives.

 

Example:  An individual might believe, “Because of my family’s reputation, I am unworthy of acceptance”.  Through CBT, this belief can be challenged by exploring evidence to the contrary, recognising individual strengths, accomplishments, and inherent worth.

 

Challenging Negative Beliefs:  CBT involves challenging and questioning the validity of negative beliefs.  Counsellors work with individuals to explore alternative, more balanced perspectives that consider evidence contrary to the negative beliefs.


Example:  Through CBT, the individual may challenge the belief by recognising instances where they have been accepted or valued by others despite perceptions about their family.

 

Example:  A person might hold the distorted thought, “Because my family is different, I am inherently unworthy of acceptance”.   CBT encourages the identification of distorted thoughts related to these beliefs.

Behavioural Techniques:  CBT incorporates behavioural interventions to help individuals gradually confront and navigate social situations, develop assertiveness skills, and cultivate healthier interpersonal relationships.

 

Example:  A person feeling isolated may engage in exposure exercises, gradually participating in social activities, and practicing assertive communication techniques to challenge and change their self-perception and others’ perceptions about them.

 

Building Resilience and Coping Mechanisms:  CBT equips individuals with coping strategies to manage societal judgment, develop resilience, and prioritise self-validation over external validation.  Ostracism often triggers emotional distress and can erode self-esteem.  CBT aims to build resilience by helping individuals focus on their strengths, positive qualities and identify coping strategies to manage emotions, such as anxiety, sadness, or anger, stemming from the societal perceptions surrounding their family.

 

Example:  Through CBT, individuals can learn to set boundaries, prioritise supportive relationships, engage in self-care activities, and develop a resilient mindset to navigate societal challenges effectively.


Example:  Someone facing ostracism may learn healthy coping mechanisms, like mindfulness or relaxation techniques, to navigate emotional challenges and prevent negative thoughts from escalating.

 

Example:  Through CBT, an individual can shift their focus from perceived societal shortcomings to their personal achievements, reinforcing a more positive self-image.


Addressing Shame and Stigma:  CBT provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore feelings of shame, stigma, and self-blame, fostering self-compassion, acceptance, and empowerment.

 

Example:  Therapeutic interventions, such as narrative therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) components within CBT, can help individuals reframe their stories, embrace their unique identities, and cultivate a sense of belonging beyond societal judgments.


Behavioural Skills Training:  CBT involves practical strategies for behavioural change.  Counsellors may work with individuals to enhance their social skills, communication abilities, and assertiveness, fostering positive interactions despite societal biases.

 

Example:  A person might practice assertiveness in social situations, expressing themselves confidently and dispelling misconceptions about their family.



Navigating Ostracization Through CBT:

 

Social ostracization based on family perceptions poses significant challenges, impacting individual’s emotional well-being, self-worth, and interpersonal relationships.  By addressing distorted thoughts, fostering coping strategies, enhancing behavioural skills, and building resilience, CBT empowers individuals to navigate social challenges, fostering a more positive self-view despite external biases.  As individuals gain tools to challenge negative beliefs and develop coping mechanisms, they can gradually break free from the shackles of societal judgments, reclaiming agency over their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

 

 

CONCLUSION:

 

By targeting negative thought patterns and fostering cognitive restructuring, CBT enables individuals to cultivate healthier beliefs, emotions and behaviours.  As evidenced by the examples provided, the benefits of CBT extend beyond symptom reduction, encompassing enhanced problem-solving skills, improved relationships, and empowerment.  Whether facing anxiety, depression, or simply seeking personal growth, the principles of CBT offer a roadmap for positive change and resilience.

 


Maryanne Zarth


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