Ten years ago, Fern was at a crossroads. Her mother, best friend, and boyfriend wanted her to leave the city she loved and return home to run the family business. Fern’s dreams differed from theirs, but she felt beholden to the life set out for her. Then she spent a day with Will, which empowered Fern to prioritize herself. There were sparks, sure. But the timing wasn’t right, and ultimately their paths didn’t cross for ten years. When they met again, all the old feelings came rushing back, and they started dating. But Fern was haunted by automatic negative thoughts based on assumptions she’d made a decade earlier.
We all experience automatic thoughts that pop into our heads. These thoughts are frequently distorted, but many people believe them and emotionally respond as if they are true.
With all cognitive distortions, the goal is to move from:
Situation -> Automatic Thoughts -> Emotion -> Response
Situation -> Automatic Thought -> Emotion -> Analysis of Automatic Thought -> New Emotion -> Adaptive Response
Here are some general tips for how to analyze automatic thoughts:
Check the facts: Ask yourself what evidence supports your automatic thought and what evidence there is against the automatic thought.
Seek another perspective: Ask yourself if there is an alternative explanation then the one your brain jumped to.
Depersonalize the situation using the best friend voice: As yourself, what would you think if a best friend presented this situation to you OR if you shared this situation with your best friend?
Target the specific distortion: If you can identify the distortion from this list, follow the link to the page where more distortion-specific strategies are outlined.
Jumping to conclusions
Magnification or minimization
Shoulds or Musts
Once you have analyzed the automatic thought, use the new data and perspectives to form a more measured thought. Observe your new feelings when you can honestly believe the more measured thought and notice yourself engaging in more adaptive responses.
Let’s Use Fern as an Example
With distorted thoughts:
Fern noticed that Will left the room to have certain calls in private (SITUATION).
She assumed this meant he was dating someone at home and wasn’t that into her (AUTOMATIC THOUGHT).
This made her feel anxious and insecure (EMOTION).
and provoked her to distance herself from him (RESPONSE).
When analyzing the distorted thoughts:
Fern checked the facts and noticed that Will had lived at the resort for several weeks without visitors and consistently verbalized that he was interested in her; she also broadened her perspective to recognize that they were getting close but not yet at the stage where they know everything about each other, Fern amended her thoughts and instead thought that Will liked her and had not completely opened up to her, yet, but would in time (ANALYSIS OF AUTOMATIC THOUGHT)
This left her feeling hopeful (NEW EMOTION),
And provoked her to continue putting effort into the relationship and openly ask about the phone calls (ADAPTIVE RESPONSE).