We have thousands of thoughts every day. Many of these thoughts are automatic, unintentional, and unthinking. The problems arise when we attach emotions to them. Our thoughts are influenced by our upbringing, our culture, family values and previous experiences. We decide almost automatically whether an event, person, or thought is good or bad, dangerous or safe. Oftentimes our minds attach the meaning without our realizing it as it tries to help us interpret events, sights, smells, sounds and feelings. Our minds start with an event and then attach meaning to it which leads to the emotions we feel.
Here are some truths about automatic thoughts.
The first thing to remember that these thoughts are automatic. They just happen and are often affected by our upbringing and development. Oftentimes we develop unhelpful thinking habits which lead to Cognitive Distortions.
Our thoughts are believable although they might not necessarily be helpful, true or accurate. Automatic thoughts are often based on our emotions rather than the facts and this can drive our opinion based on whether something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Thoughts can be a memory, words, a physical sensation, an image, a sound or based on intuition. Our thoughts can also be based on a sense of just ‘knowing’ or gut instinct.
Our thoughts are habitual and persistent. This is how cognitive distortions can be formed. Thoughts repeat over and over leading to a believability that can set off a new chain of related thoughts that can make us feel worse. Our thoughts often follow themes for short periods or even for years and decades. This is known as rumination and can lead long term depression.
The final truth about automatic thoughts is that they are ours. They are very specific to ourselves because of our experiences, values, knowledge and culture. We may often have thoughts that don’t fit with our values and beliefs, which can cause us distress because we attach meaning to those thoughts about why we had them.
Automatic thoughts are just that, automatic. They are often fleeting and illogical, but it is when we attach meaning and emotion to the thoughts that we run into trouble. Oftentimes we have to relearn a more balanced way of thinking to deal with the cognitive distortions that we have developed throughout the years.