Adjusting Dysfunctional Thoughts
Dysfunctional thoughts are learned. This means they can also be adjusted to become mentally healthy. This adjusting requires first becoming aware of the specific dysfunctional thoughts, understanding where thy came from, challenging the validity of dysfunctional thoughts, and finally replacing them with one or more healthy thoughts. Here are five suggestions to help you adjust your dysfunctional thoughts:
Awareness of Situations Likely to Induce Your Dysfunctional Thoughts
Here are some examples of these kinds of situations:
- All occasions when you’re feeling anxiety
- Times when you’ve made some kind of mistake or have failed to meet expectations, and therefore feel ashamed or inadequate
- Situations in which you feel under scrutiny or criticized
- Times when you’re angry at yourself or others
What are some of your situations?
Ask yourself, “What have I been saying to myself that led me to feel this way?” “Do I really want to do this to myself?” When you feel too upset to explore and adjust the dysfunctional thoughts, allow yourself the chance to acknowledge and express your feelings. Then later, when you’ve calmed down and are ready, you can proceed with the following steps.
Relax or Distract Yourself
Interrupt your dysfunctional thoughts by doing diaphragmatic breathing or using some alternative method of distraction. The objective is to slow down and self-soothe. Dysfunctional thoughts are so rapid, automatic, and unconscious that they can escape discovery if you’re feeling urgency or stress. In some situations, it may take 10 to 20 minutes of deep breathing, whole body relaxation, or visualization to soothe yourself sufficiently to be able to explore your dysfunctional thoughts. Under less intense anxiety or shame, you will be able to do this step in a few minutes.
Keep a record of Dysfunctional Thoughts
It may be difficult to unscramble the dysfunctional thoughts that initiate your anger, anxiety, or shame by simple reflection. It can be confusing to consider what you’ve just been thinking. The techniques of recording your trigger thoughts, using either a cassette recorder or a pencil and paper in your anger log, will clarify the specific dysfunctional thoughts you made to yourself. This step may take practice to master. It’s helpful to be able to distinguish thought from feelings. The best way to do this is to jot down only the feelings first and them secondarily the thoughts that led to them. For example, the dysfunctional thinking phrase “I feel hopeless and inadequate” is one where thoughts and feelings are mixed. It can be unbundled into a particular feeling – “I feel hopeless” – and the dysfunctional thought that precedes the feeling – ” I am inadequate.” Therefore you first ask, “What was I feeling?” Then you ask, “What thoughts went through my mind prior to my feeling this way?”
Consider a recent anger situation in your anger log – describe on printout:
- The feelings (e.g. “frustrated”, “very annoyed”, “rage”)
- The trigger thoughts (e.g. “this traffic is going to make me late for work.”)
Confront the Dysfunctional Thoughts
You can confront the dysfunctional thoughts by requiring direct proof of their validity. There are some helpful confronting questions:
- Is this the whole picture or just a kernel of truth?
- Am I being balanced in my thinking about this?
- What’s the worst scenario her? Then what would happen?
- What evidence is there for this?
- What is the real truth about this?
- Has this ever been true before?
There are two additional questions in confronting dysfunctional thoughts which help to challenge their reality and reasonableness:
- Did I choose this belief, or did it come our of my experience growing up?
- Does this belief promote my OK-ness (well-being)?