Countering ‘Automatic Negative Thinking’


In my last post I explained the concept of “automatic negative thinking,” and the good news is that though once you get caught in that loop it may seem hard to break out, it can indeed be done. There are two main approaches.

The first, identified with the seminal therapy pioneer Albert Ellis, sounds on its face like a no-brainer: rationally discussing these thoughts. For Ellis, they are impositions or demands we place upon ourselves, whose rigidity and irrationality end up damaging our functioning and our happiness. An example of such is the notion that we shouldn’t fly because it’s simply a terrible experience we’re incapable of tolerating and that’s that. According to Ellis, what needs to be done in the face of this is to initiate a debate with ourselves in order to dislodge such maladaptive thinking and replace it with more positive thinking.

The second approach, identified with psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck, consists of testing the veracity of these negative thoughts by experimentation. For Dr. Beck, these thoughts are a product of certain distortions in interpreting reality. For example, the belief that we’re always in for a rough time when we fly just because we once got a little nervous when passing through a patch of turbulence. According to Beck, what’s called for here is to put ourselves in a position to verify whether these concerns are justified or not, and if not, to adjust them accordingly.

Both approaches require that we step outside ourselves and become a friend to ourselves, the friend that will help us beat our phobia and automatic negative thinking, whether through reasoned debate or practical proof. This will be the subject of a future post.

image | david wallace