This morning I started reading the ‘The Happiness Trap’ by Dr Russ Harris as I plan to do a book review of it as a guest blogger. As I started to read the introduction and the first part of the book, I began to realise that something that I learned, but are yet to adapt, in group therapy about automatic negative thinking was not the changeable thought process that I was led to believe. What they talked about in therapy was that one of the contributing factors of depression is the role that our negative thought patterns play in our lives and in our minds. The theory is that if we can change these negative thoughts to positive thoughts then we will adjust our daily thinking and our self-talk, and that by becoming aware of our negativity we modify what we are doing.
“There’s nothing either good or bad except thinking makes it so” – Unknown
There are six trains of thoughts that contribute to automatic negative thoughts:
Catastrophising – this thought pattern centres around thinking that ‘everything is a disaster’. No matter how big or small, for almost any problem or situation that doesn’t work out or that makes us feel bad is seen as a disaster. We attribute our problems, issues, and anything that is wrong with something a lot bigger than most of these situations actually are.
Mind Reading – how many times do we do something, say something and we go away thinking ‘god, I wonder what they think of me’, ‘they probably hate me’. For the average person this happens a lot more than we realise, depressed or not we all think we know what others think of us. When we are depressed this way of thinking is more pronounced because we want to think that we are depressed because what we ‘perceive’ to be the thoughts of others is the reason why we are depressed. We convince ourselves that this is the case even though we don’t really know what people think, in fact in most situations what we think people think of us is actually false.
Black and White – we all at sometime have the mindset that we have to be perfect at something, as a person, in a relationship, at our job, just about everything we think we have to be perfect at it. On the opposite side of the coin we think everything is a disaster, or think we are completely hopeless. There is no in between in the black and white spectrum of thinking we don’t go around thinking ‘no I’m not perfect at that, but I am not really bad, a failure at it either’, it’s either black or it’s white for us.
Overgeneralising – every day the words ‘I never’ come into our mind and our vocabulary. We say ‘we never have any money’, ‘we are never going to travel’, ‘I never do anything well’. Like the black and white concept, these thoughts are not true because we always have some money, what we consider to be enough is another story, we do travel, we might not travel the world but we still do other forms of travel, and we all do something well, we might not be perfect at it, but we still do something well. We always overgeneralise, distort reality through our thinking because our thinking patterns allow us to take this mindset.
Personalising – how many times do we attribute blame to ourselves without consideration to other factors and reasons for something, how many times would you say ‘it’s all my fault’ even though if we looked at the situation for what it is, we would be able to see that it isn’t all our fault. For most things that we do and that don’t turn out the way we thought we wanted it to is generally that there are various reasons, some of which are not actually within our own control. Our brain and thought patterns not only put too much pressure on us, but we have unrealistic expectations on ourselves and the things that happen in our lives. We all like to think that things will always turn out perfectly and nothing will go wrong but this is not the ideal, we all know that this happens and that there are always understandable reasons for shortfalls, but for most we blame ourselves solely for things not going right because that is how we have evolved as humans.
Filtering – we all look at life through the looking glass, we see it one way and that is the only view that we take – we see only a life of luxury, we see life only around our own opinion, we see life through depression, we see life only through what others think of us. We are filtering when we can only see life in this manner, in most cases this way of thinking is so engrained in our thoughts, personality and lifestyle that we don’t see it, and when these elements are pointed out to us we more that often will take offence, and rather think maybe I have to change that, we think ‘how dare they say that’. Filtering becomes a significant contributing factor to our depression. When we are depressed its very difficult to see anything except feeling sad, lonely, exhausted, while that is what depression is, we contribute to the severity and suffering when this is our sole focus.
So group therapy outlined that to improve our mood, we needed to reduce, if not eliminate these thought patterns but as ‘ the happiness trap’ outlines to do this is not as simple as it is made out to be by other theorists. In this book Dr Harris outlines that there are many approaches, like those explained to me in therapy, that try to teach us to identify negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones but although we may feel temporarily better, it is not possible Dr Harris says to get rid of them permanently.