Automatic Thoughts

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.

  1. Automatic Thoughts
  2. Unhelpful Thinking Habits
  3. Finding Alternative Thoughts
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Personality

Please view the post, ‘Personality’ for a definition and discussion on development of a personality. This also includes a brief outline of the clusters that personality disorders are grouped into. Personality disorders are also used as classifiers with depression.

There are many types of personality disorders and to simplify things, they are grouped into three clusters: Cluster A, Cluster B, and Cluster C.

Cluster A Personality Disorders

Cluster A disorders are characterized by odd and eccentric behavior or thinking. These disorders include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder.

  • Paranoid personality disorder is characterized by a lack of trust and suspicion of others, unjustified belief that others are ‘out to get you’, hesitancy to confide in others, angry or hostile reactions and a tendency to hold grudges. The essential feature for paranoid disorder is interpreting the actions of others as threatening or demeaning. This type of person may appear jealous, secretive and emotionally ‘cold’.
  • Schizoid personality disorder is characterized by a lack of interest in social or personal relationships, a preference to be alone, a limited range of emotional expression, inability to have pleasure in activities, and inability to pick up on normal social cues. The essential feature for schizoid disorder is appearing introverted, withdrawn, and distant. This type of person is often absorbed in their own thoughts and fears closeness with others.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder is characterized by peculiar dress, thinking, beliefs or behaviors, odd perceptual experiences, flat emotions, “magical thinking”, and the belief that casual incidents or events have hidden messages. The essential feature for schizotypal disorder is a pattern of peculiarities. This type of person has difficulty forming relationships and may act inappropriately during social interactions.

Cluster B Personality Disorders

Cluster B disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional, or unpredictable thinking or behavior. These disorders include borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.

  • Borderline personality disorder is characterized by impulsive and risky behaviors, unstable self-image and self-esteem, up and down moods, intense fear of abandonment, ongoing feelings of emptiness and intense displays of anger. The essential feature for borderline disorder is abrupt and extreme mood changes and self-destructive actions. This type of person is impulsive, self-destructive, socially dependent and have a difficulty with their sense of identity. This disorder is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder.
  • Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a disregard for other’s needs or feelings, persistent lying and stealing, recurring problems with the law, aggressive behavior and lack of remorse for behavior. The essential feature for antisocial disorder involves ignoring social norms while acting out their conflicts, no respect for others and no remorse for their actions. They are at a higher risk for substance abuse because of their behaviors.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by fantasies of power, success and attractiveness, failure to recognize other’s needs and feelings, exaggeration of achievements or talents, arrogance, and expectation of constant praise and admiration. The essential feature for narcissistic disorder involves having an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a constant need for attention. This type of person is over sensitive to failure and prove to extreme mood swings between self-admiration and insecurity.

Cluster C Personality Disorders

Cluster C disorders are characterized by anxious, and fearful behavior or thinking. These disorders include avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

  • Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by sensitivity to criticism or rejection, feelings of inadequacy, inferiority or unattractiveness, avoidance of interpersonal contact, social inhibition and fear of disapproval, embarrassment or ridicule. The essential feature for avoidant disorder is excessive social discomfort. This type of person usually has no close relationships, although they would like to and are upset at their inability to relate well to others.
  • Dependent personality disorder is characterized by excessive dependence on others and the need to be taken care of, submissive or clingy behavior, fear of fending for yourself, lack of self-confidence, difficulty disagreeing with others and tolerance of poor or abusive treatment. The essential feature is a pattern of submissive and dependent behavior, rely on others to make decisions. This type of person is usually uncomfortable and helpless if they are alone and can be devastated if a relationship ends.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is characterized by a preoccupation with details, orderliness and rules, extreme perfectionism, a desire to be in control, excessive commitment to work and an inability to discard broken or worthless objects.The essential feature for  obsessive-compulsive disorder is a striving for perfection and rare satisfaction with their achievements. This type of person is reliable, dependable and methodical, but inflexible to change. They are highly cautious and pay specific attention to detail.

This is just a brief summary of a few of the more typical personality disorders. Although you may identify with the traits of various disorders, a doctor would need to decide whether or not you should be diagnosed with it. Every person can identify with various aspects of personality disorders because no one person’s personality is perfect. We’re all different and that’s ok.

  1. Mayo Clinic
  2. Mental Health America
  3. American Psychological Association
  4. US National Library of Medicine
  5. Psychology Today

Personality

Personality is a very fluid idea. Often times, our actions or reactions are blamed on our personality. “That’s just how they are.” But personality is actually developed through the situations and environments we experience during adolescence. Our personality is affected by our temperament and our character. The APA defines personality as, “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving”. Personality can also be defined as a set of traits or characteristics that uniquely influence a person’s behaviors and thoughts is various situations.

Personality evolves over time. It does not remain stagnant. Our behaviors and traits are influenced by our life experiences and relationships. Personality traits are also reinforced by our experiences. In many ways an unhealthy personality trait can be reaffirmed when a life event doesn’t go as planned. However, in this way you may also be committing a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a person unintentionally and/or unconsciously fulfills a preconceived notion or idea, whether it be positive or negative. The only experience I have ever had with self-fulfilling prophecies have been negative.

There are also illnesses regarding personality. These of course, would be considered personality disorders. A person can have certain individual traits of a disorder without having the disorder. A personality disorder is defined as “a pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are consistently exhibited over a long period of time and create emotional and mental distress”. Personality disorders exist on a continuum from mild to severe, but left untreated it can reduce a person’s quality of life. Personality disorders can also be considered ‘fatal flaws’.

Personality disorders are grouped into three clusters based on their similarities and symptoms. Cluster A disorders are considered odd or eccentric behavior. This would include schizoid or paranoid personalities. Cluster B disorders are dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior. This would include narcissistic or histrionic personalities. Cluster C disorders are considered anxious and fearful behavior. This would include avoidant, dependent or OCD personalities.

In the next post I will be discussing the various personality disorders within their clusters, their traits and how they are diagnosed. Please remember that even if you display some of these traits, that does not mean that you have a personality disorder. No one is perfect.

  1. American Psychological Association
  2. Mind for Better Mental Health

Change: A Clinical Definition

“There’s a difference between wanting to change because you hate yourself & wanting to change because you love yourself.” – Anonymous

According to psychology, there are 6 steps to change. These steps will help make change a less arduous process and open you up to possible new behaviors and habits that are currently holding you back. Please remember, it is normal & natural to regress, to attain one stage only to fall back to a previous stage. “No one can force a person to change their behavior, lifestyle, mentality, attitude, etc. The individual must be ready for change” – Psychology.tools

The first step is precontemplation. Here you have not yet acknowledged that there is a problem. At this point, you are in denial and will defend your current bad habit or behavior. You have no intention of changing this habit or behavior because you do not see a problem.

The second step is contemplation. Here you are acknowledging that there is a problem but you don’t know if you want or are ready to change. You are aware that a problem exists with your current behavior or habit, however you are ambivalent and have no commitment to making a change. You do spend time thinking about the problem, trying to determine if change is needed.

The third step is preparation or determination. You are getting ready to change and have an intention to take action. This is also known as the research phase because you are gathering information on how to make the needed change. This step is often skipped and leads the person to fail at their initial attempt to change because they haven’t accepted that it will be a change that will affect their lifestyle.

The four step is action. This involves the willpower to actively modify the behavior or habit. You have to have a belief in your ability to change and be actively involved by using different techniques and putting effort into the change. It is in the phase that people are at the greatest risk for relapse however they are also more open to receiving help and support from others.

The fifth step involves maintenance. Here you have to avoid temptations to return to bad habits and you have to maintain the behavior or habit change. You need to remain aware of the situation, be patient with yourself and remain on track. By sustaining the change, the new habit or behavior will replace the old.

The sixth step is relapse. This is included because it is considered normal to experience at least one relapse in the course of the change. In a relapse, you return to the old behaviors or habits and abandon your changes by falling back into old patterns of behavior. Most importantly you have to remember that you didn’t fail. Instead look at your relapse as an opportunity for learning and becoming stronger. The process can be restarted again at any of the last three phases: Preparation, action or maintenance.

Eventually you will have maintained maintenance long enough to attain transcendence. Transcendence is when the former habit or behavior has now become atypical and abnormal. You will also be able to work with your emotions, view your behaviors in a new light and understand them.

Now that you know the steps to making changes? What is it you would like to change in your life? The following is a prompt to inspire change.

“Things I Want to Change”

  • Two things I want to change about myself…
  • Two things I like about myself and don’t want to change are…
  • The most important change I’ve made since __________ is…
  • A change that I’ve made since ____________ is …
  • If I try to change, I worry that…
  • A Change that I would like to make in myself but don’t think I can is…
  • The reason it is hard for me to change is…

Psychology Tools

Acceptance

Acceptance is important in your life. It allows you to make peace with the your past and move forward with your life. The first step to acceptance is learning what acceptance is versus what it is not.

Acceptance is not forgiveness, forgetting, letting it go, being ok, denial, allowing it, agreeing with it or understanding.

Acceptance is making space, letting yourself off of the hook, especially from suffering and ‘It is what it is’.

There are 10 steps towards acceptance.

  1. Honor the full sweep of your emotions.
    1. Seek to fully feel your emotions and express those emotions that you feel. Understand your emotions, thoughts & embrace them as valuable feedback for your life.
  2. Give up your need for revenge but continue to seek a just resolution.
    1. Let go of your natural instinct to hurt back or take revenge from the person who hurt you. Revenge will give you a false sense of power over another, however this power is considered ‘cheap thrills’ & will ultimately hurt you more over time. Mindfully turn away from retaliation and look to empower, grow & strengthen yourself.
  3. Stop obsessing about the injury and re-engage with life.
    1. Gain awareness to stop & replace repetitive toxic thinking patterns which only cause ongoing distress, trauma and harm. You have to create a conscious awareness and be mindful.
  4. Protect yourself from further abuse.
    1. Accepting the wrongness of the actions allows you to learn how to distance and protect yourself in the future. Use the pain of the experience to learn & grow and take precautions to ensure your safety in the present and future. Make changes.
  5. Frame the offender’s behaviour in terms of their own problems and personal struggles
    1. Try to see things from the offender’s point of view. The wrongful actions are about the person who acted wrongly. “Their neediness to feel important by tearing others down”. The more you know about them and their situations, the more you won’t take their behavior personally. Never let another person’s actions dictate how you feel about yourself.
  6. Look honestly at your own contribution to the injury.
    1. Examine how your actions, approach & choices may have contributed to the situation.This is not about blaming yourself. Authentically examine your own life, self & issues to look at how your own fears, past experiences and beliefs, etc, prevented you from seeing that you deserved so much better. That you didn’t deserve to be hurt. Allow the pain of experience to teach you that you are more than a victim. The person who most needs your forgiveness is yourself.
  7. Challenge your false assumptions about what happened.
    1. Identify and challenge any limiting beliefs or false assumptions. Identify toxic or limiting patterns, and don’t edit or rationalize these ideas. Ask yourself, ‘Is it true? What toxic thinking pattern does it fall under? What limiting belief underlies this thinking? It is an empowering or a limiting belief?’ Is this typical of your thinking? If so, why? If not, why are you thinking in this manner?
  8. Look at the offender apart from his offense, weighing the good against the bad.
    1. Look at the person separate from their actions. Also look at the person & their behaviors for their impact on you and your life. Has their impact been mostly positive or negative?
  9. Decide carefully what kind of relationship you want in the future with the person who wronged you.
    1. How do you relate to this person overall? Is reconciliation possible? If not, is it possible to even interact with the person? Is forgiveness an option? Be gentle with yourself & take time to sort through your emotions. Learn to trust yourself and your feelings.
  10. Forgive yourself for your own failings.
    1. Fully forgive yourself for any of your own mistakes or failings related to the situation. As Maya Angelou has said, “When you know better, you do better”. Your mistakes or failings stem from ingrained old ways of getting your universally human need to matter met. Forgiving yourself will make it easier to let go of obsessive thinking patterns, such as blaming yourself for what happened, which would only keep you from living your life fully engaged with the people and activities you love.

Learning to accept situations, especially ones that are out of your control, will give you more control over your own life. Acceptance is not forgiveness but rather the willingness to allow yourself to learn from the experience rather than allowing the situation to continue to harm you.

Cutting

To this post I would like to attach a TRIGGER WARNING. This post will contain information about self-injurious behavior which may be triggering to some people.

I used to cut. I found it therapeutic and punishing. I felt like I needed to cut because I needed to be punished. I felt like I needed to be punished because I was a bad person, because I was always doing something wrong, because it felt like there was something wrong with me. There had to be something wrong with me, right? Afterall, that’s why I don’t have any friends. Right?

I was very wrong. Cutting or self-injuring as it is known, is the deliberate act of harming your body. Self-injury is an unhealthy way to handle your issues and is most often done impulsively. There are many ways to self-injure, but I don’t want to get into the how of self-injury. I would like to discuss the why.

For me, there were three reasons why I cut myself. The first was because I was feeling too much emotion and I couldn’t find a way to let it out. These emotions were negative, but I must admit that they were triggered by specific situations and instead of addressing these situations and facing my emotions, I cut to let these emotions out. The second was when I felt numb. I cut because I couldn’t feel any emotion and I wanted, no I needed to feel something, anything, even if it was physical pain. The third reason was because I felt a need to punish myself. There had to be something wrong with me and because I couldn’t figure out what it was, I cut and I punished.

I learned that self-injury wasn’t going to fix my problems. Self-injury could, if continued, make my problems worse. Often, it is seen as a cry for help. Self-injury is not meant to be suicide but it can often follow that path if the person doesn’t seek help.

If you see someone who is self-injuring, talk to them. Don’t accuse them of doing something wrong, just ask them what is wrong. Often times having someone honestly ask, ‘what is wrong’ or ‘is everything ok’ can open up the self-injurer to seeking help. Sometimes all we need to know is that someone cares.

Self-injuring can be a part of mental illness and needs to be treated as such. Therapy can help a self-injuring person with this issue. It can be a temporary, situational issue like mine or it can be a continuing circle. Self-injury is never the answer, and although I understand why people do it, I hope you’ll seek help. I hope you’ll find the help and treatment you need. You don’t need to hurt yourself, you don’t need to punish yourself. Everything will be ok.

Cutting

Mayo Clinic

What Are Emotions?

Emotions are feelings that are felt during a particular situation or event.

Here are some facts you need to know about emotions:

  1. Emotions are neither good or bad, right or wrong. Emotions just are; they exist.
  2. Emotions don’t last forever.
  3. Emotions are not facts.
  4. When a strong emotion comes, you do not have to act on that emotion.
  5. You can’t get rid of emotions because they serve as important survival functions.

There are eight primary emotions.

  • Anger
  • Sorrow
  • Joy
  • Fear
  • Disgust
  • Guilt/Shame
  • Interest
  • Surprise

Secondary emotions also exist. These are an emotional reaction to a primary emotion. An example would be to feel shame when your primary emotion is anger. Secondary emotions are learned emotions from families, cultures and our environments. Secondary emotions are important, but it is more important to discover the primary emotion so you can get to the root of the problem.

Emotions have three jobs.

The first is communication. They can be communicated both verbally and nonverbally. Verbal communication of emotion occurs through words, voice tone and volume. Nonverbally, emotions can be communicated through our faces, posture and gestures. Non-verbal communication happens very rapidly and can often help us in certain situations. Even if we try to hide an emotion, it is often communicated through our nonverbal actions.

Emotions also motivate us. They tell us to ‘act now’ and to ‘stay focused’. They give us the motivation we need to change certain situations and strong emotions allow us to overcome obstacles both in our minds and in our environments. Emotions also save us time in important situations because we don’t have to think everything through.

Lastly, emotions can give us validation. Emotions can be informative about a situation. ‘Gut Instinct’ emotions can be used as signals and alarms. However, when carried to the extreme, emotions can often be treated as facts. This is where validation turns against us and this will be discussed in a future post.

Some last notes about emotions. To discover an issue, it can often help to discover where you ‘feel’ this emotion. For an example anger is often felt in the stomach, with a tensioning of the muscles.Urges to do something are natural, but not necessarily healthy. Everyone’s emotions are different so everyone will react differently to different emotions. Finally, unhealthy thoughts occur when we attach judgements to our emotions. You need to be willing to radically accept your emotions as they occur (Radical Acceptance).

Emotions are not bad. In fact, they often can be helpful depending on the situation. It’s how we react to our emotions that can cause us problems.

Emotions
Dealing with Negative Emotions