Most of us have a little voice inside that talks us through the day. We often don't take note of what it's saying because we are so used to it that we no longer notice that it's there. Often when people are struggling with unexplained sadness, depression, or anxiety, the inner voice is quietly wreaking havoc.
The basic element of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a popular solution focused therapeutic approach, is that our thoughts can run our lives and in order to turn them around, we first need to bring them into sharper focus. We can begin by slowing these thoughts down by paying attention, in order to notice what they are saying. Through this, we can watch where they lead us. Often, negative thoughts can lead to painful emotions. In practice, we may notice and feel the emotions first, but the thoughts that led to them happened so quickly that they may have been missed.
A typical example of negative thinking leading to negative emotion is this - You leave work to have lunch alone and you suddenly realize that you are feeling a little blue and slightly tired. Sitting down to slow down what just happened and asking yourself where those feelings came from, you realize that you were just having an internal dialogue that went something like this: "I didn't get that project completed, I'm so disorganized...my colleague thinks I'm lazy and doesn't like me...now I am eating lunch alone again...nobody likes me..."
From this example, it's pretty understandable why this person would be feeling not only blue, but pretty discouraged during lunch. In that short amount of time, several thoughts have passed through that have become habitual and the emotions that follow are unwelcome but, most likely, quite typical.
The object of CBT is first to become aware of the thoughts that led to the emotions by paying attention and slowing them down. Second, once those thoughts have really started coming fully into awareness, they can be changed, reprogrammed in a sense. Often these negative thoughts come from our early years, where we internalized the sometimes judgmental voices around us, be it in school, community, or at home. It is helpful to understand this, but the real work is in the moment. In becoming aware of and learning to distance from negative thoughts while replacing them with positive, nurturing ones.
The process of recognizing and then replacing negative thinking is a profound, exciting, and wonderful process. It allows us to have much more control of our lives by holding a key to what makes us tick.
Katharina Sandizell, LMFT