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

Self-Esteem

It’s strange for me to hear someone say something complimentary about me. I can deal with the smaller compliments like, “you have great eyes” or “you have a pretty smile” but the compliment “you are gorgeous”, just throws me for a loop and it’s something I have to work on. When I think of myself in good terms, I think about what I can do rather than how I look. But this also has to do with my self-esteem.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have low self-esteem. Years of negative life experiences and failed expectations have led me to this point. I ‘know’ that I’m a good person but I ‘know’ is extremely different from I ‘believe’.

Low self-esteem occurs when we think negatively about ourselves and situations. This comes about because we feel the need to place value on everything and everyone. However, we set the value of our self-worth extremely low. Negative self thoughts equal negative or low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is also circular; actual or perceived criticism or negative judgments lead to repeated self-critical thoughts or cognitive distortions which leads to low self-esteem. This circle will continue until there is a change.

To exit the cycle of low self-esteem, you have to begin thinking and doing things differently. Changes have to be made. For thinking differently, examples include ‘fact versus opinion’ or ‘being more realistic’. For doing things differently, examples include ‘acknowledging your strengths, setting limits when helping others and acting who you want to be’. “Visualize yourself competently and confidently doing and enjoying the things you would like to enjoy doing and successfully doing what you need to do”.

Using positive statements or self affirmations can also help you develop a new attitude toward yourself. You must use the affirmation immediately after having the negative thought, even if you don’t believe the affirmation. After continued use of this new habit, the negative thought will be replaced by the affirmation. Positive affirmations are most often “I am…” statements.

In addition, you should use a coping thought/positive statement for each difficult or distressing situation. Make sure to write them out ahead of time so that you have them handy for when the situations occur. Examples of these include: ‘My mind is not always my friend’ and ‘Thoughts are just thoughts – they’re not necessarily true or factual’. Please view the worksheet attached at the end of this post for more examples.

Having a higher self-esteem will give you a higher self worth so you don’t have to depend on others for these emotions or feelings. A higher self-esteem will allow to feel motivation, encouragement and empowerment to reach your goals and dreams.

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  1. Positive Affirmations
  2. Self-Esteem
  3. Low Self-Esteem
  4. Positive Statements Worksheet

Friends

When I was little, I didn’t have very many friends. I usually had the one requisite best friend and that is who I would hang out with. For some reason though, eventually this best friend would move and I would spend time in limbo before finding a new friend. This happened many times from 1st grade all the way through high school.

I was always on the fringe of any groups. Now that I’m older, I feel like I spent my childhood chasing after the other kids on the playground. I would invite girls to my birthday parties and they would attend but I wasn’t always include in outside events. As we got older, it became even more apparent to me that I didn’t belong.

My middle school years, 5th and 6th grade, I felt like even more of an outsider. In 5th grade, I became the teacher’s pet just so I could go back to my classroom instead of going out to recess. The few times I remember going to recess, I recall sitting in front of an old tree stump that was disintegrating and picking at it, watching all of the other kids. I tried joining in a couple of times but I honestly felt like I wasn’t wanted.

By high school the differences were even more pronounced. I wasn’t into fashion and I wasn’t ‘boy-crazy’. I was a musical nerd who enjoyed her classes and joined every extracurricular choral group possible. After I turned 16, I got a job but I still didn’t feel like I fit in. Looking back at pictures of myself from high school, I feel like I’m on the edges; on the outside looking in.

I’ve felt this way my entire life. I’ve often been told it’s because I’m more mature than others my age or that I ‘had an old soul’. But while that is great advice, as a kid, I just wanted to fit in. I just wanted to be part of the group; to feel wanted and involved.

Today, I don’t have many friends, but I cherish the ones I do. They are important to me because I know how much it sucks to not be  invited or to be forgotten or ignored. I want my friends to know that I appreciate that they are willing to be there for me, especially on days when my depression attempts to get the best of me. My friends are my support and for that, I thank them.

Change: A Personal Perspective

If change was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

This is the tagline for my future non-profit, ADAPT. I feel that change and adapt are synonymous because to make a change, you have to adapt. Whether it’s adapting your behaviors, your emotions, or your way of thinking, adapting is a part of change.

Change isn’t easy. I’ve found that it’s difficult to change behaviors and ways of thinking that have taken years to develop. I have to be mindful. I have to actively maintain new behaviors and put effort into the changes I need or want to make. Sometimes, I feel like this effort could be better spent. Why put effort into something when you’re not sure of the outcome? It might not come to anything. It could be a waste of time and energy. But if I’m going to ‘what if’ the negatives, I would benefit more from also ‘what ifing’ the positives. I consider this to be one of the changes I’m making to my life. So, what if the change does work? What if this change makes the difference in my life?

My depression causes me to think negatively and because of this, I have grown accustomed to thinking of worst case scenarios. So I’m trying to change and at least make the effort to think more positively, or at least not as negatively. Change has to be taken in steps. You can’t automatically convince yourself to think differently.

I am struggling with change. My depression is an old friend and I know exactly what to expect from it, but if I don’t change, I will never be happy. And I want to be happy; everyone deserves to be happy, don’t they? In this situation, change is the only way to achieve happiness. So I will change. I will take those steps forwards and backwards, and I will start all over again if I have to. Change isn’t easy, but it can be worth it to change bad habits and become a better person.

Discovering Yourself

My Story: After Outpatient Treatment Part 1

Week 1; Day 1:
I’m still struggling to find a therapist. i feel better and don’t necessarily want to find someone new. It’s hard finding someone. I’ve gotten lonely and I clicked with my last three therapists but now that I’m feeling better, I don’t necessarily want to find a new one.
And I know that one of the reasons I’m feeling better is because of the new guy in my life. For some reason, he think’s I’m absolutely amazing and gorgeous. I don’t completely agree with him. I can be amazing but I definitely don’t think that I’m gorgeous. Of course, hearing all of these things is very good for my ego and self-esteem but I need to feel these things for myself. I can’t rely on someone else for how I feel about myself.

Day 2:
I had an interesting dream that left me waking up feeling hurt. I’ve posted about this dream and the emotions I experienced because of it here.
I need to remember that I can have preferences but not expectations.

Day 3:
I’m reading this ‘self-help’ book, which is a little ironic because I’ve never really liked self-help books. But I found these two quotes which I really related to.
“I feel like I must earn my self-esteem. I think I must be very ‘special’ or intelligent or successful to be loved and accepted by others” (p. 176, Burns)
“I am terrified by failure. If I do not achieve an important goal, i feel like a failure as a human being” (p. 176, Burns)

Day 5:
That awesome guy asked me out ‘officially’ last night. & I’m here at his concert tonight. On the drive up here, I realized that I’m scared. I’m what ifing the whole thing and I’m worried that I’m going to come out of this worse for the wear. Honestly, I feel like crying. I realize that I just have to live in the moment and let things happen the way they will.

Day 6:
I’m looking forward to the new bf coming out and staying the night. It’s exciting. I don’t know what he sees in me, but I’m glad he sees it. He makes me feel better about myself which is potentially a problem. I need to bring this up with my therapist, when I find a new one.

Day 7:
I’m struggling today. It was awesome spending time with the bf, it was also sad to see him go. I know I’ll get to see him again, but now I’m feeling lonely and alone and parts of me are thinking ‘what if I never hear from him again? Why would he ever want me?’ I know this is the IBSC talking and I really wish they would shut up but their illogic is sounding mighty logical to me right now. I hate my mind!!!

To My Boyfriend

To My Boyfriend:

I’m sorry. I know that it is difficult for you to understand my depression and what it can do to me. And I love that you want to understand and that you are making an effort to see past my depression to me. I don’t know what you see in me that you insist is so amazing and great and I might never see it but I’m glad that you do.

I love that you’re uplifting even when I’m at my worst. You refuse to let me begin my destructive circular thinking and you want me to succeed. You believe in me when I can’t.

You’re a good man. You have so much going for you and I often think that you can do so much better than a mess like me, but you insist that I’m the one who is out of your league.

I can be myself around you and not worry that you’re going to walk away. I miss you when we’re not together and I look forward to every time I get to see you. I’m looking forward to see what life has in-store for us. I’m hopeful, which is saying something for me.

I’m grateful that you’re there for me when I’m down and when I’m not. You’re a wonderful person, and I hope that we can grow together. Hopefully, one day I’ll be better and my good days will outnumber the bad. Until then, all I ask is patience.

Please understand that I am fighting. I want to get better and sometimes I can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel, but you say that it’s there and I’m willing to believe you. Hopefully we can reach that light together.

Thank you for everything you’ve done so far and everything that I’m sure you’re going to do. I appreciate it more than I can say. Thank you.

A Letter to Myself

To myself:

I’ve recently realized that I’m still holding onto the expectations that I had for myself before the depression took hold. Those expectations weren’t a bad thing until I became unable to fulfill them. I’m mad and frustrated with myself for not being able to do what I was once very capable of doing. The loss of motivation, energy, and commitment has really eroded my self-esteem. I’ll admit my self-esteem regarding my physical appearance was never very high, I never struggled with it when it came to who I was and what I could do.

When my depression came along, it knocked me sideways. It completely ran me off the path I had placed ahead of myself and while I wasn’t exactly happy with the path that had been “chosen” for me, it was still a path I had planned around. I was taking a major just to have something to major in, but I didn’t like it. It was just a general degree so that at least I’d have a bachelor’s degree when it came to job searching after college; a degree I could do virtually anything with. Before the depression, I was on track to graduate a semester early with a double major, possible minor and a concentration. I was ambitious and driven, although not thriving socially in college as many people thought I would, most profoundly my parents. I was thriving in my academics.

How easily that all fell apart. I’m not sure if it was one special event that triggered it or if I was a depressive time bomb just waiting to explode; and explode I did. I stopped going to classes, I stopped eating, I stopped caring about anything. It had all fallen apart and I couldn’t seem to find the effort to care. What did it matter anymore? I wasn’t going to graduate early and I definitely wasn’t going to be graduating with a double major anymore, let alone a minor or concentration. Surprisingly, the fact that I didn’t care about everything going to pieces, didn’t surprise me. I didn’t want to be studying that major. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do after college. Sure, I had college all mapped out, but the future after that was a blur.

I have to forgive myself though. I feel like I let myself down. I’m 24 years old and I don’t have a bachelor’s degree. In fact, I’m nowhere near ready to even consider going back to school. But at least I know what I want now. At least I know what I want to major in and what I want to do with my life. My depression, despite it’s blackness and carelessness, has given me the push I needed to find my passion. And I’m planning on pursuing that passion for as long as I possibly can. I can’t and I won’t allow my depression to get in my way again.

This first time, I’d say my depression was a blessing in disguise. Now, I’m going to make it be the passion that drives me forward. My depression is no longer going to be allowed to hold me back. I’m going to fight it with everything I have in me and I’m going to live my dream. And I’m going to pass on hope to others suffering from this disease. It’s the only thing I can do now.

Project Immersion

Before the depression hit, I was always diving into projects head first. I would come up with crazy ideas and hair-brained schemes and I would enjoy diving into a new project. Sometimes it fizzled out or I would grow bored, but often the project would be completed and I would have immense satisfaction.

After my depression, I could barely find the motivation to eat let alone do any projects. I couldn’t even get my school work done and I often found myself quitting whatever projects I had tried to start, before they had even gotten off of the ground.

During therapy on Week 2, Day 11, I was feeling much better. In fact, here is the journal entire I made for that day:

“I feel better today and I really can’t explain why. (Which is ok because there are times when you can’t explain why you feel the way you do.) I’m looking forward to things. I’m coming up with ideas that I’m excited about and that I want to implement immediately. Sometimes I want to just dive into a project which might be part of the problem. I dive in, then feel overwhelmed, don’t know how to continue so I quit in the middle. (Not necessarily that I quit but that I become distressed & depressed and can’t complete the project because my mood drops.)”

Why do I want to dive into projects? Why do I want to immerse myself into projects? Is it because the focus is then taken away from me? That I don’t have to look at myself?

Do I lose momentum and steam? Why? Is it because the project has gotten difficult or troubling? It hit a snag so I don’t want to continue?”

I’ve discovered that part of the problem now, is that when I dive into a project, I don’t focus on myself and right now that has to be the focus. I guess you could say that the project for me to do right now is me. I’ll never get better if I don’t focus on myself. Honestly, this is probably going to be one of the hardest projects I have ever attempted and it’s going to be one for the rest of my life. I’m going to have to work at myself, at being healthy, at being ok with being Talia, for the rest of my life. And it’s not something that I can give up halfway. It’s not something that I can lose momentum and steam at because then I’ll end up back where I started and seeing as I didn’t like square one in the first place, this project is my number one priority.

I have ideas. I have dreams, but I have to take it slow and be realistic. I have to allow myself to make mistakes and to realize that I’ve gotten in over my head. There are a couple of dreams that motivate me and push me onward but I have to go slow. I have to allow myself the time so that I don’t become self-destructive again. Projects are good. Projects are healthy, as long as there are healthy boundaries and you pull yourself out of that immersion every once in a while to see the realistic world around you and stay grounded.

I Hate My Mind

I hate my mind. I hate the fight I have to start as soon as I wake up. I hate the frustration that builds up because of that fight. I hate the way my mind thinks. I hate the way my brain works.

Why can’t I just be normal? I’ve never really felt like I’ve ever fit in. I’ve always been the outsider; the hanger-on. I felt like I was never good enough to be involved; that everything I did and said was always somehow off; not quite right.

I’ve been told multiple times that I have an old soul, that I am an old soul. I think this is true. I don’t like partying, drinking; the normal activities of a 20-something year old. I like card games, and crafts; movies and cooking. I’d rather stay home on a Friday night and drink a bottle of wine with a friend rather than fight the crowds at an overcapacity bar.

I hate that my depression causes my brain to think in circular patterns. For example, my depression tells me I’m worthless, then maybe a friend has to cancel plans with me, so my depression tells me that it’s my fault. Maybe if I wasn’t a negative person, they would want to spend time with me. Maybe if I looked better, maybe if I was happier, maybe… My depression pounces on every small issue and compounds it until its a big weight in my mind.

I hate my mind because in many ways it is working against me. It isn’t allowing me to move forward with my life. I often feel like my depression is holding me back but at the same time, it led me to my dream and the life I would like to lead.

I hate my mind and I hate the battle, but it has given me a dream to look forward to. It has given me my motivation to win the war.

Hurt

Today I woke up hurting. My brain seems to have decided to review past events and people in my life while I’ve been sleeping. I end up dreaming about them and often wake up in a frustrated, annoyed or upset mood. While it’s helpful to review these people and events that have affected me, it also dredges up memories and pain that I didn’t realize I still had. It’s causing me to rethink past situations, which is what I’m supposed to do, but I’d prefer to do so under my own power, not in my dreams.

This first occurrence of this was just a couple of days ago. My brain decided to review an event that occurred near the start of my depression. I woke up confused and a little annoyed because this wasn’t a walk down memory lane that I wanted to take. But after reviewing the event over the past couple of days and talking with one of the person who had been involved in the situation, I realized that this event was probably the crux to my depression. This event is the most likely to have been the start of my depression and now that I have this information, hopefully I can use it to get better.

The second occurrence happened just today. I woke up after only a few hours of sleep and was so distraught and hurt that I couldn’t fall back asleep. This time my brain decided to include an old friend from high school in my dream. Thinking over it, I hadn’t realized how hurt I was by the separation that occurred our senior year of high school. I realize that people lose touch, but we had been best friends and being a naive teenager, had thought that we would be friends forever. At this point, I can’t ask her what happened, or why and there isn’t a reason to. People fall apart just as easily as they fall together. We were friends at the time, it just hurts realizing how easily that friendship fell apart.

It’s easy to feel hurt by the situations in our lives especially when things don’t go the way we planned. But how we deal with that hurt, makes all the difference in the world. Do we allow ourselves to be crippled by that hurt even if it occurs years after the event or do we move on and allow that hurt to make us into better people? I believe that these situations and the people who have passed through my life have occurred and been there for a reason. They have helped create the person I am today. And while that person is a flawed human being, I am trying to bring what little good I can to the world and I am trying to be a better person. Everyone is flawed, but it’s how you deal and cope with the flaws that makes the difference.