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Challenging Unhelpful & Negative Thoughts

Challenging Unhelpful and negative thoughts


                                                                Challenging unhelpful thoughts

The way that we think about things can have a huge impact on our mood and for many trauma Survivors, getting caught up in negative thought cycles is often something many struggle with.  Many of our thoughts occur outside of our control, and can be negative or unhelpful. It is important to remember that thoughts are just that, and they often have no real basis, and are not necessarily facts. We may feel and think certain ways eg I am to blame, its all my fault, but it doesn't necessary mean its true.  Even though we may believe a lot of our unhelpful thoughts when we have experienced a traumatic event, or feel stressed or low, it is good to remember that they should be questioned as they are often based on wrong assumptions or are often left over reminants of what we may have been told by others during our time of trauma which again doesnt make those people right.

It can be useful as trauma Survivors, to recognise, if the way you are thinking about things, is unhelpful or is an unrealistic way, and look at how you can begin to make changes to this. By doing so, you can learn to see things in a more realistic light which can help to improve your mood. You might have unhelpful thoughts about all kinds of things

For example:

"I'm helpless, Im powerless"
"I'm in danger, something might happen to me"
"I am to blame"

"No one is safe, no one can be trusted"

"the world is dangerous"

"Im unlovable"

You might find it difficult to identify an unhelpful thought. Try thinking about a time when your mood changed, perhaps when you were thinking about a traumatic event. Consider what was running through your mind at that time.

Predicting the future, Catastrophising, What if?

When Trauma Survivors are worried about something, its not uncommon for them to spend a lot of time procrastinating and ruminating. You can end up thinking about the future, and predicting what will go wrong or what you percieve will happen. This is instead of just letting things be and follow its own natural course of action. You might blow things out of proportion, or come to expect a catastrophe.

For example:

Something terrible is going to happen.
What if they're waiting for me.
What if it happens again.

Jumping to conclusions, Taking things personally

When Survivors of Trauma are feeling emotionally vulnerable, its likely that they take things to heart and become more sensitive to what people say.

Mind reading

Trauma Survivors because of their anxieties, worries and fears, can often make assumptions about why someone said something, read into what someone has said and meant and come up with an entirely different concept to the one that was meant or portrayed, and consequently can be overly quick to draw conclusions, and thinking that they are the focus of what has been said.

For example:

You think that a friend has ignored you, but in fact they have other things on their mind. 

They must be about to attack me. 

Filtering - Ignoring the positive, focusing on the negative

Often Trauma Survivors can ignore the positive aspects of life or their situation and find themselves focusing solely on what isn't working, isn't going okay, getting impatient and frustration and focus on negative elements. This style of thinking stops us feeling good about ourselves and can have a dramatic effect on our self worth, self esteem and self confidence.

For example:
This event has ruined my life
I was only able to cope on that occasion because...

Black & white thinking - All or nothing, Perfectionism, "Should" thinking

Due to traumatic experiences, Survivors often only see things as black or white, with no grey area or in-between. Having this polarised view can lead some survivors of trauma into setting themselves impossibly high standards, being overly critical and struggling to recognise any achievement due to their perfectionism or unrealistic expectations of themselves and others.

That was a complete waste of time.
They must hate me.
I should always get full marks.


Because Trauma leaves such a devastating impact on a Survivors life, they often, based on one incident,  assume that other events will follow a similar pattern in the future. You might find it hard to see a negative event as a one-off. This can also mean that you label yourself, often unkindly, which can lower your mood and confidence, perhaps even leading to feelings of hopelessness.

For example:
Failing my exam means I'll fail at everything.
The neighbour's dog snarled at me, all dogs are vicious!
I'm useless because I didnt get that one thing done on time

Do any of your unhelpful thoughts follow some of these patterns? It may be useful to write down any examples you can think of 

We can learn to rewire our brains, to take on board positive ways of thinking, and we can learn to challenge these unhelpful thoughts. This can help to improve your mood and can lead to us feeling far better about ourselves.

By learning to challenge our unhelpful thoughts, you may be able to come up with a more balanced thought that is accurate and based on

How to challenge unhelpful thoughts

Once you have recognised an unhelpful thought the next stage is to challenge it.

The first point of challenging unhelpful and negative thoughts is to ask yourself a series of questions.  

The below example will illustrate how this can be achieved

Situation: Taking a walk in the evening along a path, or down to the local shop
How you feel: Fearful, on edge, worried.
Once you have asked - the unhelpful thought could be: I'm going to be attacked!

As yourself these questions, you should read through your answers.

Try challenges to an unhelpful thought

Now you can challenge your unhelpful thoughts by asking these questions.

Is there any evidence that contradicts this thought?
I've walked this way many times before.
Lots of people walk this way.

Can you identify any of the patterns of unhelpful thinking described earlier?
I'm catastrophising.
Fearing the worst (what if).

What would you say to a friend who had this thought in a similar situation?
Lots of people walk there, there's no reason why you would be targeted.

What are the costs and benefits of thinking in this way?
Costs: It makes me anxious to walk that way home, any other way is much longer. It reminds me of when I was attacked before.

Benefits: I can't really think of any.

How will you feel about this in 6 months time?

I'll probably look back and laugh about how silly I was being.

To come up with a more balanced or rational view.

For example:
I have walked along here plenty of times, it is no less safe than it was before I was attacked on that one occasion. I can manage these feelings of anxiety.

Try to apply these questions to other unhelpful thoughts  that you experience.  It can help to try and apply these questions to your unhelpful thoughts and help you to begin to challenge them, and reframe them into more positive ones. It can help to improve your
mood and how you feel about yourself. You can use this technique to test your  negative beliefs and thoughts about yourself to see if they are realistic and balanced.

edited by Rain45 on 22/8/17 Added picture relevant to topic



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