• Amber ANN LISW-CP, MPH, CHES

Reducing Cognitive Debt Series Part 2 - Challenging Negative Thoughts


Part 2: Challenging Negative Thoughts

Welcome to Part 2 of the Reducing Cognitive Debt Series in Honor of BIPOC Mental Health Month! Part 2 explores Challenging Negative Thoughts as a tool to reduce Cognitive Debt. Are you new to the term Cognitive Debt? Checkout the introductory Reducing Cognitive Debt Post to learn more.

A key risk factor for incurring cognitive debt is recurrent negative thinking. Therefore, part 2 of the Reducing Cognitive Debt Series focuses on recognizing and challenging negative thoughts.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that has been proven to be effective in treating mental health conditions to include depression, anxiety and substance misuse. Core principles of CBT include unlearning unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors.

Negative thoughts are also known as cognitive distortions. CBT offers various techniques to address cognitive distortions. The first step in addressing cognitive distortions is being able to identify them.

Types of Cognitive Distortions

  • Catastrophic Thinking

  • Exaggerating or minimizing the meaning, importance, or likelihood of things

  • Black and White Thinking

  • Seeing things in only extremes, leaving no room for gray areas. Something is either great or terrible. You or either perfect or a failure. Also known as all or nothing thinking.

  • Magical Thinking

  • Believing that one event happens as a result of another without evidence of causation

  • Shoulds and Musts

  • Statements that impose an unreasonable set of expectations that will likely not be met. These statements often lead to guilt or resentment when applied to others.

  • Labeling

  • Results from extreme forms of overgeneralization. Imposes judgments of value to ourselves or to others based on one instance or experience.

Once the cognitive distortion has been identified, it is important to examine the evidence.

Examine the evidence

This technique can help you effectively challenge negative thoughts. Is there evidence to support what you are thinking?

If you find that there is legitimate evidence to support your negative thought, then you may be experiencing a crisis. For example, if you believe that your partner will hurt you and they are threatening you or inflicting physical, emotional or sexual abuse. If so, call 911, contact NAMI’s Crisis Line (800-950-6264), or your mental health care or primary health care provider.

If not, what evidence is there against the negative thoughts you are having? If you are experiencing one of the cognitive distortions defined above, then it is likely that there is only evidence against your negative thought.

The chart below provides examples of the cognitive distortions defined above and how to challenge them after examining the evidence.

Do you ever experience negative thoughts or cognitive distortions? If so, how do you cope with them? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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