Negative automatic thoughts: what they are and how they appear

For better or worse, most of what goes on in our mind is beyond the control of our will, and it happens even without our realizing it.

This involves benefits such as allowing us to focus our attention on really complex mental tasks that require deliberate effort, such as making a decision on where to go or what product to buy. However, it also has some drawbacks. For example, that we cannot fully control what will appear in our consciousness.

In this article we will talk about a very annoying phenomenon related to the latter. These are automatic negative thoughts.

    What are negative automatic thoughts?

    As the name suggests, automatic negative thoughts are a set of mental contents (verbally articulated ideas, imagined images, etc.) that they emerge in consciousness in a disruptive way, regardless of what the person wants to think, and they generate emotional disruption.

    So, it is a psychological phenomenon which causes discomfort and interrupts the thought dynamics of the person, because in most cases the emotional impact of these automatic negative thoughts is greater than what I thought before appearing. in consciousness.

    Although the feeling of experiencing any of these automatic thoughts is unpleasant, the degree to which they disturb us can vary widely; in some cases their emotional load and frequency are not high enough to suffer significantly, but in some cases they can deplete a person’s quality of life and can even be one of the symptoms of a psychological disorder .

    the causes

    The causes of negative automatic thoughts are very varied and differ depending on the person and the context in which they live. however, there are a number of psychological factors that increase the chances of bringing up these thoughts in our everyday life, and which in fact overlap relatively frequently. They are as follows.

    1. Anxiety

    It is not surprising that in most people with anxiety problems, negative automatic thoughts appear. These produce a “vicious circle” effect.: As the person is already alert and sensitive to possible signs that something is wrong, they are more likely to attract disturbing images, pessimistic ideas, etc.

      2. Depressed mood

      Depression and bad mood usually introduce a pessimistic bias in peopleAnd because of this, it creates more “mental pathways” to unpleasant ideas or memories.

      3. Problems in social relations

      Phenomena such as social phobia or the propensity to argue with a loved one can often lead to automatic negative thoughts, because when you think about those people with whom you have had unpleasant experiences, these painful emotions occur. . Outraged, each new meeting with these people can come to “strengthen” this association, By leaving room for unpleasant interactions in which we feel uncomfortable.

      4. Psychological duel

      The loss of something we felt emotionally attached to, as well as the loss of loved ones, is a common source of negative automatic thoughts. For example, during this process, it is normal to suddenly remember the last moments of that person’s life and at the same time feel the sadness of this situation mixed with the desire to lose. Fortunately, in most cases, the psychological duel is resolved in just a few months.

      5. Personality tending to neuroticism

      People who score high on the personality element ‘neuroticism’ are more likely to experience painful or unpleasant emotional reactions to everyday eventsAnd they are also more likely to retain emotional consequences after going through psychologically demanding experiences.

      6. Feeling guilty

      Another common cause of negative automatic thoughts is that we have taken an action that we are not proud of. This is a kind of memory which comes up against the concept of “ideal self”, Which we would like to be, and therefore produces discomfort that is expressed from time to time, drawing our attention to this part of memory.

      What to do?

      Here are some tips for dealing with these types of thoughts, although the most effective measure that can be taken in these cases is to go to psychotherapy.

      1. Don’t try to block these thoughts

      Trying to let these negative automatic thoughts completely out of consciousness is counterproductive, because it gives them more power, predisposing us to pay attention to them.

      2. Practice attentional focus management

      1. The key is to accept the existence of these thoughts, but to learn not to give them full importance. The ideal is to learn to direct our attention to other types of stimuli, assuming it is natural to feel some discomfort. Mindfulness exercises generally help.

      3. Have healthy habits

      When our bodies are weakened or in poor condition, we are much more likely to suffer from anxiety and distress in all its forms. Get enough sleep and maintain a balanced diet.

      4. Practical exercises

      Regularly do moderate exercise it helps to “disconnect” from those experiences or ideas that worry us excessively, This allows us to approach these issues constructively.

      Are you looking for psychological treatment?

      Fortunately, with the help of professional psychologists, it is possible to learn how to prevent and cushion the emotional impact of negative automatic thoughts.

      If you wish to benefit from psychotherapeutic support from professionals with many years of experience, we invite you to contact our team of psychologists. At Cribecca psicologia we assist both in person in our center in Seville and through online video call therapy, and we have professionals specializing in different areas of emotional well-being and trained to help people from all ages. You can see more information about our center, as well as our contact details, on this page.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Joormann, J .; Dkane, M .; Gotlib, IH (2006). Adaptive and maladaptive components of the rumie? Diagnostic specificity and relationship with depressive bias. Behavioral therapy. 37 (3): pages 269 to 280.
      • McLaughlin, K .; Behar, E .; Borkovec, T. (2005). Family history of psychological problems in generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology 64 (7): pages 905-918.
      • McLaughlin, Katie A .; Borkovec, Thomas D .; Sibrava, Nicholas J. (2007). The effects of worry and rumination affect states and cognitive activity. Behavioral therapy. 38 (1): pages 23 to 38.
      • Nolen-Hoeksema, S (2000). “The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed depressive symptoms of anxiety.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 109 (3): pages 504 to 511.

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