An ABC Guide to Managing Negative Thoughts and Emotions: Part 1
As fallible human beings, we have all been guilty at some point in our lives of misinterpreting situations and jumping to conclusions. In these moments, we are particularly vulnerable to emotionally reacting to our misinterpretations, which more often than not, result in feelings of regret and thoughts such as “what have I done!?”! But did you know:
THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS…BUT OPINIONS
Our thoughts serve the function of helping us to interpret, evaluate and make sense of situations and events. We make these interpretations through our individual ‘lens’ through which we see and view the world, and this is largely influenced by our personal, past experiences. For example, if you have experienced bullying in the past, you may be more prone to interpret a social interaction through a threat-based lens, and consequently be more sensitive to looking for signs that you are vulnerable to rejection or judgement again. This may lead you to experience anxiety and urges to avoid or escape. Whereas for those people who have not experienced bullying, they may interpret this exact same interaction with excitement and optimism, and participate more in the interaction:
PAST EXPERIENCES > EVENT > INTERPRETATION > RESPONSE
Our thoughts are also influenced by the emotions we carry with us into situations. If you are experiencing the emotion of happiness when your partner accidentally breaks your favourite possession, you are more likely to interpret and subsequently respond to this in an understanding way – “it’s ok, I know it was just an accident, don’t worry about it!”. By contrast, should they break that much-loved possession in a moment when you are experiencing high anxiety and stress –well, we may not interpret this or respond so compassionately:
EMOTION > EVENT > INTERPRETATION > RESPONSE
Lastly, our thoughts also influence our emotion and its intensity at any given moment. If I evaluate an event or situation as ‘good’, positive emotions such as happiness and joy will be prompted. Whereas if I evaluate an event or situation as ‘bad’, more challenging emotions such as anger or disappointment may be prompted. For example, if a friend cancels plans last minute I may make the interpretation “they obviously don’t like me”, which will likely trigger sadness and urges to withdraw:
EVENT > INTERPRETATION > EMOTION > RESPONSE
Across all of these scenarios, a type of thought bias known as emotional reasoning is being elicited. Its function is important – it is trying to help us rapidly make sense of the world and respond to it accordingly. Our emotions are useful signals after all. Whilst this ability to evaluate situations and events is incredibly important to us as human beings, and has ultimately helped us to survive and thrive from an evolutionary perspective, it can also cause us difficulties. Namely, when we interpret our thoughts as FACTS as opposed to OPINIONS; and when we react to these opinions as if they were facts and truths, without ever questioning their validity.
Next week, we will be sharing our simple ABC guide on how to address these thinking and emotional biases, in order to reduce the negative impact they have upon us.
Written by Ellie Bacon, Assistant Psychologist (Supervised by Dr Emily Smyth, Clinical Psychologist)