CBT is based on the idea that what we think determines how we feel and how we behave. While it can be difficult to change our behaviour and almost impossible to change our feelings, we can indirectly influence them by changing the way we think.
All people have a tendency at times to have dysfunctional and irrational thoughts.
All people have a capacity to have dysfunctional and irrational thoughts which left unattended can negatively impact our lives. CBT aims to develop the skills to recognise these unhelpful thoughts, challenge them, and with practice, change them, resulting in less self-defeating behaviours and greater well-being.
We can change our feelings and behaviour by changing our thoughts.
To achieve this change we first need to learn to recognise unhelpful beliefs that lead to self-sabotaging behaviours. Unhelpful beliefs stem from three main "shoulds" that we hold on to and that lead to negative demands on ourselves, summarised below.
Demands about self: This includes thoughts that we should be perfect and successful and that we should always have the approval of the significant others in our lives. Beliefs related to this sort of thinking often lead to feelings of self-doubt, low self esteem, anxiety, depression, shame and guilt.
Demands about others: This includes thoughts that other people should always treat us well and if they don't they deserve rejection and/or to be punished. Beliefs related to this sort of thinking often lead to feelings of frustration, anger, aggression and/or passive aggression.
Demands about the world/life conditions: This includes thoughts that our living conditions should always be comfortable, pleasurable and rewarding or else things are awful and unbearable. Beliefs related to this sort of thinking are often associated with self-pity, hurt, and lack of self discipline.
In the face of stressful life events and challenges, these core beliefs can lead to unhelpful thoughts which in turn may result in low mood or symptoms of depression or anxiety. Left unattended, these feelings can result in self-defeating behaviours that can then compound the associated feelings, creating a spiral effect that can potentially lead to mental illness.
In general, CBT aims to take broad problems or issues and break them down in order to focus on specific situations, emotions and thoughts. These specific issues are then addressed using the CBT tool unhelpful thought record, to find answers to the following questions and therefore find solutions:
- What are the most important problems to work on now?
- What self-defeating thoughts are preventing me from finding a solution?
- Why can't I handle this situation right now, what are the obstacles?
- What more adaptive thoughts and behaviours would help right now?
To begin, first familiarise yourself with the different types of common unhelpful thinking, and then try the detailed unhelpful thought record online form. Remember, it can be difficult to learn new skills on your own, if you need assistance at any time therapist help is available.