Automatic Negative Thoughts or ANTs are conscious and subconscious thoughts that may occur in one’s daily life. These are mental activities or images that may appear as a response to a trigger which can either be an action or an event. These are irrational and could be self-defeating. making it difficult to resolve ongoing mental health issues such as addiction. You can opt to get help from a counselor or dedicated Redondo Beach addiction therapist to help you curb your automatic negative thoughts.
Of course, going to therapy is a big step. So before you pick up the phone, you may want to prepare and find the words to tell your therapist what you are going through. Here’s a short guide on automatic negative thoughts and how to deal with them.
What are Automatic Negative Thoughts?
Identifying Automatic Negative Thoughts
If you’re undergoing individual therapy for substance abuse or other mental health issues, the first thing that your therapist may suggest focusing on is overcoming your automatic negative thoughts.
To help you identify your ANTs, your therapist may suggest writing down your thoughts you have about yourself as they occur.
After a long time of these thoughts being automatic responses, it can be surprising to be conscious about where they are coming from, when they occur, and what you are actually saying to yourself. It is important to get insight on your ANTs because the way you speak to yourself in your mind may affect how you think and act.
Once you’ve written down those thoughts, your therapist will then work with you to review your beliefs and how you can replace them with healthier ones. This can be done through a process of questioning where those thoughts are coming from, and replacing them with beliefs that are more positive and rooted in reality.
Your therapist or substance abuse counselor will walk you through a process of challenging your beliefs and automatic negative thoughts — at your own pace.
Types of Automatic Negative Thoughts and How to Stop Them
- All-or-Nothing Thinking
All-or-nothing thinking makes you reason in black and white, without any middle ground. For people who experience all-or-nothing ANTs, when the first sign of adversity hits, they immediately think the whole endeavor is doomed to fail. These thoughts are absolute and are constantly astronomical.
Some all-or-nothing statements are:
- I missed one interview question; I have no chance at all of getting this job opportunity.
- My friend is mad at me. They must hate me forever.
- I failed today’s math quiz. I will never pass this subject.
How to deal with all-or-nothing thinking: Once you’ve identified that you are practicing all-or-nothing thinking, you can start to challenge your thoughts and reorient yourself back to reality. Failing one quiz, for example, is unlikely to lead to you failing algebra if you do well on your major exams and submit all your homework.
Instead, you can reframe your thoughts to remind yourself that one stumbling block is unlikely to cause the failure of an entire endeavor:
- I missed one interview question, but the rest of my answers were sound and I am a strong candidate.
- Friends quarrel sometimes, but we can talk about this and we will make up.
- I failed today’s math quiz, but I will have other chances to pull my grade up.
Mind-reading occurs when you assume the cause of someone’s behavior or actions towards you. Here are some examples:
- My partner didn’t kiss me goodbye at the door; they must be planning to break up with me.
- My workmate’s email request doesn’t have a smile emoji at the end. They must hate me.
The problem is that while your assumed cause may sound logical, you never actually know what the other person is feeling. Your spouse may have been distracted or running late as they rushed out the door; it doesn’t mean that they don’t love you anymore.
Mind-reading is harmful when left unchecked, because it can result in isolation. You may find it difficult to connect with people because you assume that no one is going to be kind to you.
Further, you may struggle to communicate with people about the real cause of their behavior, because you’ve already jumped to conclusions about their motivations.
How to deal with mind-reading: If you catch yourself mind-reading, stop and remind yourself that you never actually know the cause of people’s behavior until you ask them. If someone’s words or actions affected you so much, it’s better to ask them why they acted the way they did rather than to guess.
- We didn’t get to say goodbye properly this morning. Were you having a rough day?
- Your last email sounded a little tense, is there something I can help with?
Oftentimes, other people are also not aware that their actions may come off negatively to others!
In addition, it may not be possible to always confront someone else about how they feel about you, so it’s important to also reframe your own thoughts about yourself. Rather than assume that you deserve someone’s negative treatment of you, remind yourself of positive things about you:
- I am a lovable person, even if my partner is in a bad mood.
- I am a hard worker, and I deserve to be at this job.
Blaming is considered as the most harmful of all ANT types. It can be hard to accept that we play a role in our own issues. It’s easier to say that our problems have been caused by other people or external events, rather than a result of our actions or inactions.
However, this means that because we are unable to look more closely at our own actions, we are unable to pinpoint where we are going wrong. And so, we make the same choices that lead to destructive outcomes.
Blaming ANTs sound like:
- It’s my parents’ fault that I got into substance addiction, or
- Everything wrong with my life began when I got into that accident
How to deal with blaming thoughts: It may be true that an outside factor or another person may have been the catalyst for your current mental health issues.
For example, if you experienced a traumatic event such as an abusive relationship, you may have felt that this event led you to lose control of your life. It is easier to blame your mom and dad for shoddy parenting than to admit that you found it hard to cope and eventually turned to drugs.
However, resolving blaming thoughts is all about taking back control. You cannot go back and change the past, and you cannot force people to become better persons. All you can control is how you respond to challenging situations:
- My parents were not there for me, but I can make the right choices and take care of myself instead.
- The accident may have taken some things away from me, but I can still live a fulfilling life with what I have now.
Seek Help in Finding the Positive
The good news is that automatic negative thoughts can be overcome. It takes a lot of healing and inner work to replace ANTs with positive thoughts. If you feel that you need support on this journey, it is important to know that seeking help is a step in the right direction, and not a sign of weakness.
A therapist can help you focus on your strengths, ground you in reality, and keep you on the positive track. Getting counseling can teach you not to think in absolutes, to communicate rather than to jump to conclusions, and to take ownership of your choices.
You can fill your life with positive thoughts and productive actions that can defeat these automatic negative thoughts.
Let us help you live a healthier, more positive life by banishing your automatic negative thoughts. Call South Bay LA Therapy today.