From Petty to Powerful Thinking : Exploring Our Automatic Negative Thoughts

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Recently, I was asked to utilized Facebook Live to shared with an awesome of group women from MoMs who Raise.  This group was developed by psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Shadeiyah Edwards.  I was honored to be on this panelist of women during Happy Hour with Dr. Edwards.  The topic that I presented on was how our thoughts and feelings affect our interactions with ourselves and others.  At times, our interaction can be Petty and we know that they are Petty.  These harmful thoughts are a reflection of how we are feeling on the inside.  First, we addressed varies definitions of Petty Thinking.  Secondly, we explored the various Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS).  Lastly, we discussed ways to challenge negative thinking to decrease our petty thinking and move towards positive thinking.

We can all admit that we have been Petty in our thinking with others and also ourselves.  So let’s take a look a few different ways of how a person engaging in petty thinking is defined.

may participate in relatively worthless or unimportant (ex. petty cash is cash kept on hand for very small purchase).

may get caught up in a small details, becomes angry when someone accidentally steps on your foot.

may takes a small subject and blow it out of proportion.

may make something otherwise insignificant into something bigger to suit their own agenda.  

may feel justified in the act of keeping it real while others find it offensive, 100% honest, even if it means “keeping it real.”

Now that we have the different definitions of Petty, let’s connected with what The Board of Directors in mind that pushes out our Automatic Negative Thoughts when we engaged in Petty Rants.

  1. Fortune Telling – When we are anxious, we are predict some bad event as the outcome.  We might not be completing aware of what it is, but it invariably is there.  Examples includes, “my mind will go blank during my presentation,””I won’t pass the test,””I won’t pass my work evaluation,” ” I will never finish this book.”  Sometimes the fear is something specific (failing a test) and sometimes it is more vague. Other times, what we ar predicting is anxiety itself.  Predicting something already before the test or interview, such as I will blow it.  We over-estimate the likelihood that the bad event will happen.
  2. Catastrophic Thinking – This Automatic Negative Thoughts can be described as Fortune Telling on steroids.  We predict not only will the bad thing happen, but the outcome will awful and unbearable.  If my thoughts are, “if I don’t get a the job, I’m going to end up homeless” you may be engaging in catastrophic thinking.  Like fortune-telling, not only will the bad thing happen, but the consequence will be terrible.  We over-estimate the consequences of the bad event and under-estimate our ability to cope.  Minor setbacks, frustrations and mistakes are often seen as more awful than they really are.
  3. Mind Reading –  We assume that other people are having negative thoughts about us. At an event/party are thoughts are “these people don’t like me” or if you have a give a brief presentation  to co-worker (or event Facebook/Instagram Live), you think that your audience will be able to tell that I am anxious and make a fool of ourselves.  When we think this way, we turn every social event into a performance in which we must control the thoughts of other people ( which is impossible).  Without checking fact, we automatically think it negatively apply to us.
  4. All or Nothing –  Thinking in rigid black or white categories.  If we don’t score 100  on exam/test/presentation, we think we are a complete failure.  If someone doesn’t like something about us, we believe they dislike everything about us.  This thinking pushes us to practice perfection which is not healthy or realistic. All-or-nothing thinking is the tendency to judge things in extreme or “black or white” categories.  It is irrational because in reality things are never completely one way or the other.  You will always be afraid that if you dont achieve perfection (which is one extreme) you will be complete failure (which is the other extreme). Another example includes when eat one spoon of ice cream while changing your eating habit, so you decide to eat the whole gallon of ice cream.
  5. Overgeneralization – When we allow one or two events makes us believe that something is “always” or “never” true.  Common examples include, “nothing ever works our for me,” “I’m always messing up” or “I’m never going to succeed at this.” Overgeneralization pushing us to be negative discouraging and decreasing our self-esteem.  When we overgeneralize, we assume that because we had one bad experience in the past, we believe that we will have the same negative experience in the future even though there is no evidence for it.  If a bird craps on her car, we assume just our luck and that birds always crap on our my car.  Our assumptions raises our anxiety level whenever  they encounter a situation that has been negative, even just one experience in a past.  People who overgeneralize often use the word “always,” “never,” “no one,” “everyone,” “all” or “none.”
  6. Mental Filtering – We focus on the most negative aspect of a situation and fail to notice what might be most positive or as least neutral.  For example, you receive a number of positive responses on your presentation, but all you can focus on is the one critical response.   You focus on undesirable trait and lose sight of positive qualities. If you have free time, you focus on how bored you are and don’t look for positive things to do. When stuck in heavy traffic, you focus on how awful it is versus thinking about what a blessing it is to have a car, with air or heat, power window, gas, leather seats etc or the fact you don’t have to take the bus. We have to shift from the glass half empty to glass half full approach.
  7. Shoulds are S#&*s – When we think this way, we are requiring the world, other people and even ourselves to live up to our expectations. It is a willingness to accept what it. I am angry at you because you “Should” have remembered my birthday. I feel guilty and inadequate because I “should” be making more money. “should’ thoughts about other provoke anger and “should” thoughts towards other provoke guilt.  We have to practice reframing ourselves from using shoulds to motive ourselves and incorporate “want to” statement to help us achieve our goals.
  8. Labeling/Judgement – We apply negative labels towards ourselves. The list is endless such as lazy, stupid, rude, insensitive, overly sensitive and so on. In reality, labels are not accurate because no one is always lazy, stupid, rude etc. When we label ourselves, we feel guilt or inadequate. When we label others, we feel angry.
  9. Discounting the positives – We minimalized the significance of our accomplishments, successes and blessings. Somehow, they just “don’t count.”

    Yes, I won the tennis match, but my opponent had a bad day.

    Yes, I was accepted into many colleges, but I didn’t get into the best ones.

    Yes, I got the promotions, but there wasn’t much competition.

                                                 Yes, I did good, but it wasnt good enough.  

  10. Emotional Reasoning – We believe that our emotions are an accurate reflection of reality. In the middle of a panic attack, I feel like “I’m going crazy” or “I have to get out of here” I feel like a loser, I must be one. I feel rejected, therefore I have must have been rejected. Since I feel guilty, I have must have don’t something wrong. I’m terrified about going on planes, therefore they must be dangerous.
  11. Personalization and Blame – Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that is not entirely under your control.  When a woman received a not that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, :this shows what a bad mother I am,” instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be of help to her child.  When another woman’s spouse beat her, she told herself, “If only I were better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.” Personalization lead to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.  Some people do the opposite.  They blame other people or their circumstances for their circumstance for their problems, and they over look ways that they might be contributing to the problem.  “The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.”  Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people will resent being scapegoat and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap.  It’s like the game of the hot potatoes – no wants to get stuck with it.

In efforts to start moving from Petty to Positive or at neutral thinking we have to start working on changing our thoughts. If you found yourself identifying with the 11 Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) discussed above, practice developing neutral response and work your way to replacing your neutral responses with Positive responses.  If you are looking for a jump-start, try reciting these affirmation daily to practice positive thoughts.

“When I chose positive attitude and positive thoughts I create positive experiences”

“I keep my power by taking responsibility for actions”

“I will focus on all my the good in my life”

“I will achieve my goals by beginning with my thoughts”

“Making positive decision will bring positive outcomes” 

“I can choose my thoughts, feelings and actions that come from my authentic self”

“My value doesn’t change when I compare myself to others” 

Next time you find yourself falling into a Petty Rant, ask yourself these two questions: Will this matter 5 minutes from now? Will this matter 5 years from now?  And if you want to take a step further when before you start a rant, Get to the real issues? Consider if it is really bothering you? Utilize a softer approach or become neutral in your response. Lastly, be patient with yourself and watch your thoughts transform from Petty to Positive.

Powerfully Thinking,

Shayla Peterson, LCSW

Sources: The Feeling Good Handbook by Dr. David Burns (1989), Anxiety: Treatment that really workd Dr. Stan Hibbs (2013)