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Good Morning Families, today is Thursday May 28th, 2020 and it is now time for a moment of SEL.
Today we are going to talk a little bit more about automatic thoughts, and in particular Automatic Negative Thoughts or, as we might call them in school, ANTs. To remind you, Automatic Negative Thoughts are exactly what you might think they are. Seemingly involuntary, negative thoughts and emotion information that come up in immediate response to a situation or event.
Here are a couple common ANTs. Automatic Negative Thoughts about ourselves. Automatic Negative Thoughts about the world. Automatic Negative Thoughts about the future. Let’s go through these a little more.
A common ANT about ourselves may involve our self-concept as in “I suck” or “I’m a bad person” or our body image as in “I’m not the right shape, or size, or complexion”. A common ANT about the world may involve helplessness or hopelessness in our shared humanity such as, “everybody sucks” or “everything sucks”. This can be particularly present when you see people whose job it is to be helping, but they are doing the opposite. A common ANT about the future could be stuff like, “this will never get better”, “I’ll never get this”, “things will always be this way”.
When people are dealing with anxiety the ANTs can tend to make people overestimate how bad things will be and underestimate their ability to manage the situation and bounce back. Going back to our book by Judith T. Beck, titled Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Basics and Beyond, on page 137 says, “The cognitive model states that the interpretation of a situation (rather than the situation itself), often expressed in automatic thoughts, influences one’s subsequent emotions, behavior, and physiological response.
It is natural, when not under distress, to bring a little bit of critical awareness to our thinking. That is, if you read a part of a story and you don’t understand what you are reading you may go back and re-read the part you spaced out during. In that process, you recognized that you weren’t understanding, and you gently went back to redo a process to help you understand. However, if you were facing an ANT you might recognize that you weren’t understanding some part of a reading and instead tell yourself, “I’m stupid!” or “I’ll never understand this!” and throw your hands in the air. And wave them like you just don’t care.
Exactly like that. That’s how an ANT works. It jumps in the way of you being able to respond with understanding and care and instead tells you something really negative and you listen! But, here’s where we are learning. You don’t have to hear it to listen to it. That is, you can observe the message, without buying into what it is telling you. If you are able to interrupt the response to the ANT. You might not interrupt the ANT right away, and that’s okay, that will change with practice. And the practice is meeting that ANT with bug spray. Is that right?
Mind bug spray! The words of the ANT can be tricky but the emotion information they carry can really be what gets us down. For example, the ANT may say, “I can’t get this!” but the emotion information may be feelings of inadequacy, that could lead to either anger about fairness or sadness about some lack of skills.
Most typically Automatic Negative Thoughts are based on some aspect of reality but are distorted. That is the thoughts are connected to some valid thought but, just like a distortion pedal works on a guitar, the signal is way oversaturated. Here’s a link to a video of a guitar player playing metal songs with and without distortion. That’s how ANTs work also. They distort your thinking in the same way. It’s the same underlying signal but the distorted one is way oversaturated. Of course, in metal it sounds better to be oversaturated so that’s like the opposite so maybe this example is confusing.
Basically, just try to see if you can spot little bits of valid thoughts, without being rolled over by some full-blown thinking that may be distorted.
Some ANT’s may come in the form of words, some may come in the form of images, and some may just present emotion information without any clear, direct message. Here’s what you can do today to practice interacting with your ANTs. See if you can separate the Automatic Negative Thought from the emotion information that may accompany it. That is, try to give a little space and therefore recognition that there can be a difference between the ANT and the possible emotion information.
In that space of separation, you will eventually find the ability to make a choice about your feeling. That is not quick and easy so don’t stress or beat yourself up if it is difficult. In time you will be able to find a choice in your feelings. Also, with practice you will definitely find the space to make a choice about how you express yourself, which will be viewed by others as behavior.
This is a lot of work and can take a lot of practice, but here’s the good news, you’ll experience a lot of events and situations, and you’ll probably experience some automatic thoughts. If you notice those thoughts as negative, then you have the space to practice.
We look forward to connecting with you in whatever way we can tomorrow. Until tomorrow, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.