Automatic Negative Thoughts (A 3 point guide)

The current blogspot will be based on the question “what are negative automatic thoughts?.  It will the automatic negative thoughts and describe their nature in detail. We will also learn about the various types of automatic negative thoughts with examples. Further, the ways to overcome the negative automatic thoughts will also be discussed.

What are automatic negative thoughts?

As the name suggests, negative automatic thoughts are spontaneous thoughts that can emerge into our minds daily at a conscious or subconscious level and are negative and unpleasant in nature.

Being negative automatic thoughts, these thoughts are usually overwhelming and have the tendency to disturb routine functioning of an individual as the negative automatic thoughts lead to negative emotions and negative behaviors.

As a result of automatic negative thoughts, individuals often feel more stressed and anxious. Since the thoughts are usually irrational and lead to thinking about the self in demeaning and self defeating ways. Individuals often develop a negative view of the self, other people and the world as a result of negative automatic thoughts.

On an average 70,000 thoughts come across a human mind on a daily basis and most of the thoughts are based on automatic negative thoughts. The negativity in our thoughts is a result of the training of our mind due to the unpleasant events and associated feelings. 

The negative automatic thoughts occur as apprehensions related to routine life. They turn the human mind into a generator that spontaneously produces negative thoughts that are usually repetitive in nature. Thus our mind gets accustomed to negative thinking.

Thus the human mind develops a habit of frequently thinking the positive thoughts and the negative thoughts turn into automatic negative thoughts.

Many philosophers have coined and used the term “ANTS” to refer to the negative automatic thoughts. As ants have the ability to spoil any pleasant food or a picnic basket, similarly the negative automatic thoughts spoil human life across all spheres (Beck, 1960; Amen, 2010). 

The negative automatic thoughts have a tendency to disturb the social, occupational, personal and emotional life of human beings to a great extent.

The effects of negative automatic thoughts on life

The automatic negative thoughts are not harmful in themselves. However, when the intensity and frequency of the automatic negative thoughts increases it gives rise to distorted thinking patterns. The distorted thinking patterns in turn have a tendency to form a vicious cycle related to an associated situation that becomes a triggering event.  An example of a vicious cycle can be seen here.

The vicious cycle results from negative automatic thoughts. The repetitive thoughts associated with any situation tend to get intense and frequent. As a result, the individual with the automatic negative thoughts feel distressed and anxious. They are thus unable to live a life upto their potential and are not capable of doing the activities that they want to do and their overall functioning and gets impaired in life.

Following are the effects of automatic negative thoughts on individuals:

  • Negative automatic thoughts result in chronic stress feelings among the individuals
  • Automatic negative thoughts have a tendency to change real anxiety related to a situation into imagined anxiety, that is of higher intensity.
  • Negative automatic thoughts have a tendency to change the balance of neurotransmitters and neurochemicals in the brain.
  • Negative automatic thoughts often make a certain situation overwhelming for an individual.
  • Negative automatic thoughts have a tendency to deplete the serotonin and dopamine in the human body.
  • Negative automatic thoughts result in decreased production of brain derived neurotrophic factors.
  • Negative automatic thoughts result in an increased size of amygdala which is related to emotional responses of the human body. 
  • Negative automatic thoughts increase the risk of psychological disorders and associated features.
  • Due to the resulting dysfunctional coping styles, negative thoughts lead to distorted patterns of thinking.
  • The  automatic negative thoughts keep a person overly concerned and cautious, hence the person is unable to enjoy daily life events.

Beck et al (1979) stated that automatic negative thoughts lead to negative cognitive triad and negative self concept. As a result of a negative view of the self, of the people around yourself and the world, the person has a greater tendency to face depression symptoms and associated features.

Alongside, Beck et al (1979) also concluded that self criticism is also a detrimental effect of automatic negative thoughts on human beings. Individuals tend to evaluate their routine experiences with a more negative and biased view. They feel less confident about undertaking any new decisions in life. They are critical of themselves and believe the illogical and irrational automatic negative thoughts as true.

The most adverse effect of automatic negative thoughts on a person’s life is the development of suicidal thoughts also known as suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation results when an individual is extensively preoccupied with the automatic negative thoughts and believes that he is a total failure and has no right to live. Such a person thinks that death is the last solution to all his life issues. Unattended and unresolved suicidal ideation further leads to suicidal attempts among individuals.

Examples of Negative Automatic thoughts

Some examples of negative automatic thoughts are as follows:

  • I am a failure
  • Nobody loves me
  • I am no good at all
  • I can achieve nothing
  • Everyone hates me
  • I am so ugly
  • I am weak
  • I am a hopeless case
  • I am guilty of being the black sheep in family
  • My life is a mess
  • I should rather die
  • I am not worthy of living
  • Something bad will happen
  • I will die
  • Future is dark
  • I am an ultimate loser
  • I can never be successful
  • Death is the last resort to my problems
  • Nobody is trustworthy
  • My friends don’t like me

The automatic negative thoughts are based on the underlying cognitive distortions. The cognitive distortions are errorful ways of thinking. They are based on distorted thinking patterns that lead to dysfunctional thoughts. The common cognitive distortions are : 

  • Polarized thinking is also known as black and white thinking. An individual under polarized thinking perceives things as being at two extreme poles. For example hate and love.
  • Labeling is a cognitive distortion where an individual labels a negative event to his own self.
  • Personalization is a type of cognitive distortion that makes an individual perceive themselves to be the source of a conflict or a problem.
  • Blaming isa type of cognitive distortion that makes a person believe that the unpleasant events and feelings are caused due to someone else. 
  • Shoulds and musts lead to a rigid belief about doing certain things in certain ways and canceling them out if they don’t fit the mental mould of an individual.
  • Catastrophization is an underlying belief that something bad will happen or something will go wrong.
  • Fortune telling is related to future prediction of events in a negative manner. 
  • Mind reading is associated with negative thoughts about what another person is thinking or feeling about an individual. 
  • Jumping to conclusions depends on drawing negative conclusions out of life decisions without weighing the possibilities. 
  • Mental filtering tends to reject the negative experiences a person has in life and dwell in the negative events and unpleasant experiences.
  • Magnification is related to multiplying a negative event to increase its intensity and act accordingly.
  • Emotional reasoning is related to negative interpretations of events and rationalizing them with further negative thoughts.
  • Fallacy of control is a negative thought pattern that makes an individual believe that whatever negative  has been happening is due to some external or internal factor.
  • Overgeneralization is an automatic negative thought pattern that takes one unpleasant experience in life and generalizes it to each and every life experience.

Ways to manage automatic negative thoughts

Inorder to manage automatic negative thoughts,following strategies are recommended:

  • Identify your vicious cycle
  • Identify your triggers
  • Identify the underlying distorted patterns of thinking
  • Record your daily thought content
  • Try to develop alternate positive thoughts by thought challenging
  • Practice taking a positive perspective in life
  • Accept the unpleasant incidents as part of life
  • Try to manage your responses to your triggers 
  • Use emotional regulation to manage unpleasant emotions as a result of negative life experiences
  • Use physical exercises to channelize your negative feelings
  • Learn thought diffusion 
  • Give less value to your negative thoughts
  • Train your mind to believe that not everything it thinks needs to be acted upon
  • Believe that not all your thoughts are logical and true
  • Avoid shoulds and musts for yourself and don’t let others impose their shoulds and musts upon you
  • Take control of your mind and instead of filtering out the positives, filter the negatives out and dwell in positive experiences
  • Practice forgiving yourself and others around you
  • Practice gratitude
  • Count your blessings to gain an insight about the positive aspects of your life
  • Write down your daily positive record
  • Seek professional help for thought restructuring through cognitive behavior therapy
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Check with a psychiatrist to balance the underlying brain chemicals to help keep a positive perspective in life
  • Consult a psychotherapist for facilitation on identifying the underlying cognitive schema and resolving the negative automatic thoughts.
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle with an optimum level of physical activity also aids in managing the automatic negative thoughts.
  • A positive interaction with a social support group also provides an opportunity to live a life with less negativity.
  • Identify your inner critic and try to stop owning your negative thoughts using cue word relaxation like “ah it’s my mind again”, “its ok, my mind is habitual of thinking negatively”.

Conclusion

The present blogspot focused on the automatic negative thoughts. It discussed the automatic nature of the thoughts. We learned the adverse effects of automatic negative thoughts on physical,psychological and social health of humans. The ways to manage automatic negative thoughts were also elaborated in the blogspot. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Automatic negative thoughts

What is automatic negative thought?

A negative automatic thought is an irrational and illogical thought based on a distorted belief.  They occur at a conscious or a subconscious level.

What are some examples of automatic negative thoughts?

Some examples of automatic negative thoughts are as follows:

  • I am a total failure
  • Nobody loves me
  • Nobody cares for me
  • My parents hate me
  • I am not worth living
  • Everyone uses me

What are automatic negative thoughts in psychology?

In psychology, negative automatic thoughts are referred to the thoughts that are self derogatory and severely critical of ott only one’s own self, but other people and the world as a whole. 

Citations

https://sdlab.fas.harvard.edu/cognitive-reappraisal/identifying-negative-automatic-thought-patterns
https://www.collaborativeawareness.com/post/2015/12/18/9-types-of-ants-automatic-negative-thoughts-that-invade-our-relationships-and-how-to-exte
https://www.hopetherapyandwellness.com/blog/137299-how-to-stop-automatic-negative-thoughts-ants
https://bebrainfit.com/ginkgo-biloba-memory/

Beck, A. T., Rush, J., Shaw, B., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: Guildford Press

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