The Managing Negative Thoughts Tool

Our thoughts can have a big effect on how we feel and behave. The thing about thoughts is that they are just that – thoughts, not facts. Although sometimes it seems like our thoughts take over, thinking something does not actually make it true. Our thoughts and feelings and the way we act or behave are all closely linked together.

Here are some examples that might be familiar to you:

  • If you are preoccupied by thoughts of someone having been unkind to you, you might feel upset and not go out in public
  • If you are worrying about how you look, you may feel very anxious – and avoid seeing your friends or going to work
  • Having negative thoughts about your visible difference might make you feel angry and upset – and you may become irritable and less approachable.
  • Our thoughts are often based on past experiences and how we feel about ourselves which means they can be very biased. When we look at building confidence, it is helpful to try to leave these biases behind – it’s not always easy, but try to see yourself as a blank canvas – not to judge yourself in terms of the negative things that have happened before, or the negative thoughts you have about yourself. Here are some exercises to help you with negative thoughts

I am not my thoughts

We can’t stop thoughts coming to mind, but we can learn to recognise negative thinking – and try to challenge it. Learning to be more aware of your unhelpful thoughts will help you to see them for what they are – negative, automatic and not facts! Once you can do this, the thoughts may become less powerful and have less influence over you.

“My whole life was turned upside down after my accident. To have my appearance altered so dramatically by burns made me realise that there is no ‘perfect’ way to look. A scar is just as beautiful as any other part; it is the confidence with which you wear your scars that shows your beauty.”

Catrin

To help you feel even stronger and more confident, try coming up with a more balanced thought instead, for example, you may think:

“I am worried about what people think about me.” try to replace this with something like “People are interested in me for who I am.” Or “People are happy to have me in their lives.”

Or, if you think: “I can’t do this.” Try reminding yourself of the things you have coped with, for example: “I’ve managed some very difficult situations in my life”, “I am strong. I can do this.”

Or if you find yourself thinking, “People will stare at me.” Respond with, “People who stare may be curious and that’s ok. I am sometimes curious too. It doesn’t mean they are thinking bad thoughts about me.”

It will take practice, but try to get into the habit of replacing a negative thought with a more balanced thought. Even if you start by reflecting on the day and where you could have done this, then try it in the moment – eventually, it will become easier and more natural to do this.

What would I say to a friend?

You could also try this approach, ‘What would you say to a friend?’ We tend to be very critical of ourselves, but we are often much better at being kind to others. So, imagine what you would say to a friend who was having the same negative thoughts.

For example, if you friend said, “I can’t seem to do anything right.” You would most likely say something like, “You do lots of things right, it’s just hard to see that right now because you are feeling down.”
Or, imagine your friend said, “I don’t want to go to the restaurant for this birthday dinner – I’m worried people will stare.” What would you say to your friend? Something like, “You can handle it; you have dealt with this many times before. And you will be with friends and we really want you to be there. Please come – it will be fun and we will support you.”

Try to think about the here and now, rather than running away with your thoughts and what if’s. It’s tricky, but bear with it. Spend a little time each day reflecting, to identify your negative thoughts and then think of an alternative thought. Then start building this up to apply this in live situations. You may find this hard to do at first, but if you try to practice frequently, it will get easier.

You might also like to look at the Recognising positive thoughts tool

Recognising positive qualities tool

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