Changing Your Thoughts with Cognitive Restructuring
In the last post, we talked about how Bob began to think and interpret the situation at the group meeting at his college. I mentioned that in this current post, we would begin to discuss how Bob can change the thought-feeling-behavior process by first identifying and becoming aware of his core beliefs and his thoughts when he is in social situations. Once Bob becomes aware of these thoughts, he can learn to challenge and replace them. This is the process of learning some of the useful skills and strategies of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
In CBT, cognitive restructuring is used to help people manage stress and to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is a technique where you first become aware of the thoughts you have and how those thoughts lead to sadness, stress, or worries. Once you identify this connection between your thoughts and how you feel, your therapist will guide you in learning how to basically train your brain to replace thoughts that are unhelpful or negative with more positive and reality-based thoughts.
The reason I say “reality-based” is because if you think about it, negative, automatic thoughts tend to be quite unrealistic. Think of the example we used with Bob: For Bob to think that the people at the table definitely, 150% do not like him is pretty unrealistic. Those people are strangers and don’t even know Bob so how can they not like him from the get-go? There’s actually a good chance that the people at the table might have been nervous, too, just like Bob and didn’t know how to respond to his friendly greeting. It’s also possible that the people at the table might have been nervous about being at the club meeting and were so preoccupied that they didn’t hear Bob’s greeting.
There are so many scenarios to explain what happened to Bob at the meeting, but most realistic explanations have nothing to do with Bob being unlikeable. However, he immediately came to this conclusion because of his own beliefs about himself: His cognitive distortions and automatic thoughts about social situations.
Challenging Automatic Thoughts
In cognitive restructuring, Bob would make a list of his thoughts in situations like the club meeting. His list would probably consist of automatic thoughts like: “I’m not likeable” or “People can sense that I’m shy, so they won’t accept me in this group.” Then, the therapist would work with Bob to challenge each of those thoughts/beliefs and replace the thoughts with more positive and realistic alternative thoughts.
So rather than thinking that the people at the table ignored his greeting because he has a sign on his forehead that says, “Hey everyone, I’m shy,” Bob can consider the many other possibilities as to why no one returned his greeting. Bob can replace “I’m not likeable” with: “People will like me once they get to know me.”
The therapist would also work with Bob in developing positive self-statements and acknowledging his personal strengths in order to help Bob build his self-esteem. One of the problems with negative thinking is that it can prevent you from remembering the many good qualities you do have because you’re so focused on the bad ones.
Cognitive restructuring is an excellent strategy to help decrease or eliminate depression and anxiety. With practice, you will begin to see the world, and your place in it, from an entirely new perspective.
I provide CBT in Southlake and surrounding areas. Contact me today to discuss how CBT can help you.