Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) can be debilitating, especially when they are chronic and recurrent. ANTs refer to negative beliefs about oneself that are often prompted by cognitive biases or past experiences. While ANTs may manifest as an attempt to protect oneself from perceived harm, they can hinder personal growth and progress. To tackle ANTs effectively, it is crucial to identify them and find ways to stop them in their tracks.
The different types of ANTs
All or nothing thinking is one automatic negative thought type that can be spotted in people who tend to view events in absolutes without leaving room for nuance. Such individuals often struggle to see the silver lining in situations and tend to engage in self-defeating behaviors. For instance, someone who fails their first test in class may start to think that passing the course is impossible, leading to a negative spiral that may adversely affect their academic performance.
Labelling is another type of ANT that involves calling oneself negative names or terms. Labelling leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy as the individual’s mind is primed to respond to negative thoughts by adopting feelings of failure, inadequacy, or disappointment. If not addressed, labelling could seriously impact one’s self-esteem and mental health.
Thinking with feelings occurs when one’s thoughts are based purely on emotions as opposed to facts. This way of thinking overlooks critical evaluation and reasoning, with the automatic negative thought often masquerading as the truth. For instance, someone who berates themselves for being unattractive because someone else made a negative comment could be dealing with this type of ANT.
The blame game is one of the most harmful negative thoughts. It involves deflecting personal responsibility for one’s actions or inactions and blaming others instead. People who feel powerless and at the mercy of others may be struggling with this type of ANT, leading to feelings of anger, resentment, and frustration.
Fortune-telling involves constantly predicting the worst possible outcome and overlooking any positive prospects. This mindset leads to missed opportunities, lack of motivation, and negative energy. For instance, someone who predicts that they will not get a job and therefore see no point in applying will miss out on potential opportunities.
Mind-reading occurs when one assumes they know exactly what others are thinking or feeling towards them. This way of thinking can lead to isolation and a lack of interpersonal relationships due to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts
To tackle ANTs effectively, it is necessary to identify the specific ANTs affecting you and confront them with rebuttals. For instance, if one’s negative thought is labelling, they could think about what specific things make them feel like failures and offer themselves counter-statements. These could include taking note of one’s strengths, accomplishments, and positive traits, thereby breaking the cycle of negativity.
It is also vital to reframe these thoughts into positive ones actively. Positive automatic thoughts are potent in counteracting negative automatic thoughts and reducing stress levels in general. Practicing optimism and looking at the bright side of things can help one see their life as more meaningful and full of joy. For instance, instead of thinking, “I’ll never get this job,” one could reframe this thought to “I am good enough for this job and will keep trying.”
Writing down ANTs and their corresponding triggers and replaying them can also help one move past reoccurring negative thoughts. By jotting down negative thoughts and their causes, an individual can develop responses that challenge the negative thinking pattern, thereby stopping the cycle of negativity.
Automatic negative thoughts are common, and identifying them is the first step to stopping them in their tracks. ANTs can occur in different forms, including all or nothing thinking, labelling, thinking with feelings, the blame game, fortune-telling, and mind-reading. Stopping ANTs involves confronting them with positive rebuttals, reframing negative thoughts into positive ones, and writing them down and finding responses that challenge them. Finally, one must remember that ANTs can be defeated, and by tackling them head-on, individuals can achieve personal growth, success and enhance their mental wellbeing.