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June 7, 2013

Overcoming habit of negative thinking

Problem: You always think the worst. If your spouse comes home late, you assume she’s having an affair. When your boss is quiet at work, you’re convinced she’s annoyed with you. If a friend hasn’t called in a while, you think he’s avoiding you. These constant negative thoughts are making you miserable.

Solution: Learn the techniques of cognitive therapy to overcome your negative or unrealistic patterns of thinking. Cognitive therapy is an effective, short-term approach to counseling that addresses how people process, that is, think about and perceive the world and people around them. A cognitive approach to therapy is based on the theory that your thoughts and attitudes create your moods. Another way of looking at this is that it is not necessarily what happens in your life that makes you happy or unhappy, but rather your unrealistic or exaggerated thoughts about what happens.

For example, it is not reasonable to assume that your spouse is having an affair because she comes home late from her office. There are probably a dozen reasons why she could be late, including traffic tie-ups, work problems, socializing with friends, losing track of time, etc. But, if you have a longstanding pattern of automatic negative thinking, you do not even consider reasonable, realistic causes. You think only of the worst-case scenarios.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that if you act on these negative assumptions by blaming and mistrusting, you will hurt yourself, and your relationship with others. While you focus on things that aren’t really happening, you may be missing important things that are happening.

Cognitive therapy is a healthy solution for people who are unhappy because of unrealistic or exaggerated thinking habits.

“Cognitive therapy is a teaching therapy,” says Dr. Stephen Batoff, a Pennsylvania cognitive therapist affiliated with the International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy. “It teaches people specific strategies to break life-long habits of negative, destructive thinking. These strategies become new habits, tools people use very effectively once they learn and apply them.”

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