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Regarding Automatic Thoughts

I was thinking today about what makes people fall into the trap of following their thoughts. Here are a few ideas that might help you understand what goes on inside your head.

Our thoughts are generated by our brain, which is continually assisting us to understand the world around us, explaining what’s occurring, and trying to make sense of it by assisting us to decipher events, sights, sounds, smells, feelings. It’s just what the human beings brain does.

Without even recognizing it, we are clarifying and giving our own meanings to everything occurring around us. We might determine that something is enjoyable or unpleasant, great or dreadful, hazardous or reliable.

Because of our earlier experiences, our background, our ethnicity, spiritual beliefs and personal values, we may well make very different understandings and assessments of situations than someone else. These explanations and meanings we give experiences and circumstances to, resulting in physical and emotional reactions.

Something happens or we observe something, which prompts a thought. Certain types of thoughts tend to lead to distinct feelings.

Thoughts-Emotion: I’m in danger and I won’t be able to cope with its ------- Anxiety, Fear

I’m being treated wrongly and I won’t stand for it ----------------- Anger, Frustration

Everything is miserable – I’m totally useless, no-one likes me, and nothing can change -----Depression

Automatic thoughts

Can be words, an impression, a recollection, a physical sensation, an anticipated sound, or based on ‘intuition’ – a sense of just ‘knowing’

Believable –

we tend to spontaneously believe our thoughts, usually not stopping to question their legitimacy. When another driver cuts me off, I might judge that he’s a selfish, thoughtless jackass, but in fact, he might be taking his wife to hospital as she’s about to give birth. Thoughts are not automatically true, accurate or beneficial. Often based on emotion (rather than facts), which drives our attitude. They are automatic. They just happen, bursting into your head and you often won’t even notice them. Our thoughts are ours – they can be quite specific to us, perhaps because of our present or past understanding, familiarity, morals and ethnicity, or just for no good reason at all. Some thoughts are so out of keeping with all those things, and that can make them seem all the more disturbing – because we add some significance about why we had them (I must be a bad person!)

Habitual and persistent –

our opinions seem to replicate over and over, and the more they repeat, the more convincing they seem, then they set off a whole chain of new correlated thoughts that lead us to feel sadder and sadder. They can follow themes, for short periods, or very often, during the course of years and sometimes decades.

I hope this little post helps explain the how and the why of it all.


Ernie R.

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