Anger is natural. It’s a normal part of life. But we don’t want to experience it for longer than necessary. Fortunately, our emotions aren’t entirely out of our control; by questioning our negative beliefs, our accompanying negative feelings become less persistent and less convincing. There are many methods for doing so, but the one with the most evidence behind it is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
In The Feeling Good Handbook, one of the most-read books on the subject, David Burns details the process. I highly recommend this and other CBT books, or working with a therapist who uses the method regularly. (There are also CBT worksheets and instructions online.)
In spite of the prodigious amount of literature devoted to the subject, CBT is a simple, intuitive process. Working either with a therapist, or alone with a journal, you identify your most anxious, fearful or hateful thoughts. Then you examine it objectively, asking yourself if the thought is entirely true, or if it’s untrue or just partly true–an exaggeration. By the time you’re done, you’ve found at least a few more positive thoughts to counteract the negative ones, and as a result, your depression or anxiety is lessened. In a perfect world, every child would be taught the technique in school, and every adult would practice it regularly.
Notes and Quotes:
- “If you want to break out of a bad mood, you must first understand that every type of negative feeling results from a specific kind of negative thought. Sadness and depression result from thoughts of loss…”
- “If you say, ‘I just can’t help the way I feel,’ you will only make yourself a victim of your misery–and you’ll be fooling yourself, because you can change the way you feel.” . . . “If you want to feel better, you must realize that your thoughts and attitudes–not external events–create your feelings.”
- “I don’t believe you should try to be happy all the time, or in *total* control of your feelings. That would just be a perfectionistic trap. You cannot always be completely rational and objective.”
- CBT Steps: One: Describe the upsetting event or situation. Two: Write down your negative feelings about the event or situation. Three: For each feeling statement, write down the automatic thoughts, the distortions and the rational responses that match it.
- Beware of the ten most common forms of twisted thinking, namely: all-or-nothing thinking; overgeneralization; using a mental filter; discounting the positive; jumping to conclusions; magnification; emotional reasoning; ‘should’ statements; labelling/name calling; personalization; and blame. When these show up in your thinking, notice the essential falsehood it gives rise to.
- “Ten Ways to Untwist Your Thinking: Identify the distortion; examine the evidence; the double-standard method; the experimental technique; thinkng in shades of gray; the survey method; define terms; the semantic method; re-attribution; cost-benefit analysis.”
- “From a practical point of view, how can you know when you should accept your feelings, when you should express your feelings, and when you should change them? The following questions can help you decide: How long have I been feeling this way? Am I doing something constructive about the problem, or am I simply brooding and avoiding it? Are my thoughts and feelings realistic? Will it be helpful or hurtful if I express my feelings? Am I making myself unhappy about a situation that’s beyond my control? Am I avoiding a problem and denying that I’m really upset about it? Are my expectations for the world realistic? Are my expectations for myself realistic? Am I feeling hopeless? Am I experiencing a loss of self-esteem?”
- “Troubleshooting Guide: Have I correctly identified the upsetting event? Do I want to change my negative feelings about this situation? Have I identified by Automatic Thoughts properly? Are my Rational Responses convincing, valid statements that put the lie to my Automatic Thoughts?”
- The book also gives many other specific strategies for dealing with depression, anxiety, phobias, communication issues and much more.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.