How Counselling Or Therapy Helped Me Deal With Negative Thoughts
“I feel like everything is my fault here”, I said as I attended my therapy session.
“Well, what evidence do you have that proves it is indeed your fault?”, asked my therapist, nudging her glasses a little higher to the bridge of her nose.
It struck me that I had none. Yet, blaming myself for events that have happened to me that were outside my locus of control was much easier than finding the reason why I assumed that.
Life as they put it, is akin to the lines that appear on a heartbeat monitor when there’s no ups and downs, then you’re basically dead. But facing trying circumstances is one thing while how we perceive these same circumstances and think of them is a whole other thing. In most cases, our thoughts tend to magnify what’s true in reality. It exacerbates the already worrying condition. To put it in a way that is much more easily understood, some of your thoughts (negative in nature) make things worse than they actually are. While my few months of counselling and therapy did not change me into a spiritual master, it certainly did help me have a sense of control when my emotions were starting to take the wheels. Here’s how therapy helped me, and how it can help you too:
1. Recognizing my negative thought patterns
Imagine that you spelt ‘queue’ as ‘q’. I mean, literally every other letter other than ‘q’ is not being pronounced, so it makes perfect sense. But unless someone points out to you that “Hey, that’s just not how the English Language works. You gotta spell it as queue”, you might never know you’re making a mistake in the first place to correct it. Awareness of something that you’re doing wrong is vital. Similarly, how can you deal with your negative thoughts if you never realize you have negative thought patterns?
These may include thinking styles such as jumping to conclusions, often making assumptions, or even overgeneralizing. Recognizing my negative thought pattern required me to pay attention to the nature of my thoughts and most importantly feelings, which aids me in finding negative patterns that exist in them. This becomes much easier when you’ve understood how cognitive restructuring works which is the next step.
2. Cognitive restructuring
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This restructuring is a part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that focuses on helping clients resolve their emotional and behavioural problems in therapy. It is done when you spot cognitive distortions (negative automatic thoughts). Cognitive distortions are the negative beliefs people have about themselves, their circumstances and their future/past. An example of cognitive distortion is ‘I am unlovable’. These cognitive distortions don’t stop here. They usually are the reason why we feel the negative emotions following these thoughts. For the example above, the emotions that might follow that thought would be dread, loneliness and depressed feelings. These negative emotions that I became aware of as I paid more attention in order to conduct cognitive restructuring is what helped me be aware of the negative thought patterns behind them.
Cognitive restructuring is carried out when we identify these cognitive distortions. They include not just identifying but also modifying the negative thought. Here is when Socratic Questioning is introduced by the therapist.
Socratic Questioning is asking questions to the clients (me and you) that guide them to become more aware and uncover deep truths (finding answers) or just confront our negative beliefs. These questions are usually non-confrontational in tone and open-ended. I think of it as the therapist guiding the blind me by holding onto my walking stick. These questions helped shift my perspective and re-evaluate my initial answers/thoughts. For the example of ‘I am unlovable’, the question might be ‘What assumptions am I making here when I say that?’ or ‘What evidence do I have against that thought?’. Or even the opening of this article is an example in itself. Socratic Questioning does not necessarily have to be done by a therapist, you can do that with yourself too as I did. This helps you not only identify your negative thought patterns but to modify/challenge them.
3. Recalibrating the universe
“Whenever anything bad happens, you should try and recalibrate the universe or whatever you want to call it with its exact opposite.”
I found this amazing quote in the final episode of ‘Modern Love’ TV series and my mind was blown. Relating it to this context, it made perfect sense as to why my therapist asked me to focus on what I’m grateful for. While my depression was keeping me trapped in an invisible cell in my mind that forced me to relive my past and overindulge in repetitive negative thinking, the complete opposite to that was positive thoughts which were fused with gratitude. So every day while I had many negative thoughts going through my mind, I had to recalibrate the universe or whatever you want to call it and do the exact opposite, which was to think of positive grateful thoughts.
I started to recall back my ‘little things’ of the day at the end of every day. It is the tiny blessings of the day I’ve overlooked but deserves the utmost attention and appreciation. As time passed, the lookout for the little things helped me focus on the bright side of everything, even problems; especially problems. But beware, do not turn into a toxic positivity ninja.
4. Adopting the spiritual perspective
The spiritual perspective here refers to the perspective of mindfulness that is rooted in the practice of meditation. The practice taught me to detach myself from my emotions and thoughts. The problem with us is that we easily get consumed with our thoughts and feelings. Thus, the practice taught me to perceive them as a part of me, not as myself. Anything that can be observed is considered an object. Since my thoughts and emotions are observable, they are objects similar to the rest of the objects around me (e.g., tables, chairs, water bottles, etc); while I, I am the subject – the one who observes and is aware of them all.
An important component of mindfulness is being in the present moment, taking in all the experiences as they are. My therapist is the first person who introduced me to the concept of mindfulness, to be present in the moment and non-judgmentally observe everything just as they are.
The common method we use to deal with negative thoughts is definitely thought stopping. We just try to stop thinking about it. But now, tell yourself to stop thinking about ‘a purple cow’. No matter how hard you try, it’s now on the top of your head. This perfectly portrays the failure of the thought-stopping method. Thus, the next time you come across a negative thought, recognize that it’s a negative thought, cognitively restructure it, focus on the positive and be mindful. Most importantly, if you realise you need help, reach out. It is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it can be the highest form of self-love. If you are looking for affordable mental health services for counselling or therapy, you can check out Miasa or Cara Cara.