By Amy Brightman, LCSW
Many people come to therapy saying that they want to stop being negative. They explain that they have always been pessimistic and that this is all they know. Let me assure you, we all have negative thoughts. It’s normal. We all can be hard on ourselves, can expect the worst of a situation, or don’t give things a chance because we feel there is no point. One thing I always tell my clients is that a negative event or situation is negative because of how it is being perceived. If you think about it, all events and situations are actually neutral. It is our perception—the way we think about it—that makes a situation negative or positive. So, it is important to identify effective strategies that help us to reduce negative thinking and instead participate in more realistic thinking.
Realistic thinking means looking at all possibilities. This involves considering all aspects of the situation and generating positive, negative and neutral conclusions. For example, imagine seeing a black cat walking across the street in front of you. What immediately pops into your head? You may think: “Oh no, bad luck!” If so, ask yourself: What are other ways to think about this? Other people may respond by thinking, “That cat is so cute!” Depending on your response, there will be different emotional and behavioral consequences.
If you were someone who thought about the bad luck, you would likely feel nervous and anxious after the encounter. If you were the cat lover, then you may feel warm and fuzzy, and even go over to pet the cat. By considering all possible explanations, we can obtain a balanced perspective of the situation, and avoid thinking in an overly negative way. Try making a list of helpful questions or statements that remind you take a balanced look when you notice negative thoughts. An example may be, have I considered all other possibilities in this situation?
After looking at all of the possibilities, if the negative thoughts persist, follow up by asking yourself these question to challenge the thoughts:
- What evidence do I have that this thought is true or not true?
- Is this my opinion or is it a fact?
- What would I tell a friend who had the same thoughts?
- Am I confusing possibility with certainty?
- What is the worst that could happen?
While negative thoughts are sometimes unavoidable, by asking yourself these questions, you can begin to practice seeing all situations from a more balanced perspective.
Amy Brightman, LCSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. Please visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn more about how Amy can help you reduce negative thinking and have a more balanced perspective.