Getting a handle on my automatic thoughts

Three weeks ago at my last appointment, my therapist gave me a log I am supposed to use when an automatic thought (AT) occurs to help me get to the root of “the problem”. I’ve used it a couple of times. Sometimes I find out the answer right away, or what causes the AT. Sometimes I don’t get any insight for a few days. I wanted to share the questions and how I’m supposed to answer them.

First is Situation: “What happened?” I’m supposed to write what happened, where it happened when it happened, who was it with/about, and how did it happen. These are sometimes hard to write down. When it’s in my head, it’s easy to dismiss it, but having to address it and “say it out loud” makes me look at it directly.It also makes me see if I’m dwelling on one specific thing that I need to look more at in therapy.

The next area is kind of a different one.It’s Emotions/Mood Scaled 0-100% I need to identify what emotion I felt at the time? Did I feel anything else with it? How intense was the emotion? The scale for that is 1-100% The ones where I feel it more than 75% are where I need to focus on. For me, the emotions have been sadness and hurt. I’m not sure if depression can fall into the emotions category.

This is followed by Physical Sensations. “What did I notice in my body?” and “Where did I feel it?” These apply to me saying “I felt it in my chest” or “I felt it in my stomach”. What did I notice in my body would be how did I feel? Did I feel a sense of loss? Embarrassment? Anger? Like I got a sucker punch to the stomach? My therapist said right now we are focusing on the feelings in my body and not my head.

The fun and digging deep stuff come next with Unhelpful Thoughts.  What went through my mind? What disturbed me? What did those thoughts, images, and memories mean to me? What do they say about me or the situation? What “button” is this pressing for me? What am I responding to? What would be the worst thing that could happen? Now, me being me and being a frustrated writer, I answer all of those questions. Sometimes the answers are the same, but in certain situations, it helps me to slog it all out. What went through my mind? That part is almost just typing it all out. Short incomplete sentences, things that come across as jibberish, and no matter how it looks after I’ve typed it out, I make sure I say it. There is no filter here.  What disturbed me? This makes me look back at what I typed and try to narrow down exactly what is causing the AT to occur. The next part – What did those thoughts, images, memories mean to me or say about me in the situation? This brings up my list of negative core beliefs: I am inferior, I am nothing, I am worthless, I am invisible, I am insignificant, I am plan and dull, I am not special, I don’t matter, I’m not valuable, I am unworthy, I don’t belong, I am alone, I’m nothing, I am uninteresting, I am unimportant, I am unattractive, I am ugly, I am useless, I am fat, I have a mental problem, There’s something wrong with me, I am a failure, I am inferior, I am a loser. (I know, it’s a long list). When I answer that question, I feel another NCE that I don’t think is on the list per say. I feel pathetic and petty. But I need to do this. I need to address this. I need to take the water wings off and dive into the lake. What am I responding to? What exactly happened that make all of this jump out of the water? And this brings back the list of what “button” is it pushing for me? Answering what the worst thing that could happen or what would the worst thing about that often brings out my greatest fears.  This is generally where the bulk of my writing happens, in this “cell” of the spreadsheet I created. I tried writing it all out by hand, but I type faster and it feels somewhat more freeing to do it this way. I do think that it would be easier to do it by carrying around a notebook, but when I have to wait until I”m at my laptop, I do get some form of perspective. Being the devil’s advocate, though, having it “mapped out” in a journal I carry can also help me at that moment when the AT happens.

Next up is where I have to reflect on Alternative/Realistic Thoughts and a More Balanced Perspective. Here I need to “STOPPPPPPP! Take a breath” and I actually type this out and make myself do it physically. I need to state if the AT is fact or opinion. That is usually an opinion since the bulk of my AT’s come from me and from overthinking the situation. So far none have been factual. It could be because I am the Queen of Overthinking and I never see the actual truth of a situation at first. What would someone else say about this situation? My answer for that is always “You’re overthinking the situation.” What is the bigger picture? That one can be a bit more difficult to answer. What is the overall bigger picture or what is the bigger picture for that particular AT? I mean I know it’s the AT, but sometimes it’s both. Is there another way of seeing it? Is there another way of seeing it? Of course, there is. I’m seeing things/it one way and it’s usually in a negative way. There is always a way of seeing the situation in an actual way. What advice would I give someone else? I always seem to say the same thing here. I’d say that they are overthinking the situation and am/are reading too much into it. Is my reaction in proportion to the actual event? It never is it seems. But isn’t that part of the definition of overthinking? Is this really as important as it seems? At the moment to me it is. But the purpose of this exercise is to determine if it really is that important.

What I did. What I could do/defusion techniques. What’s the best response? Re-rate the emotion from 0-100% I’m going to admit to stumbling sometimes when I get to this one. For the first few times I did it, I managed to get to the end of exercise. The past two times I have not. What does that mean? Does that mean I’m giving up on the exercise? Or does it mean that I’m getting to this point and realizing that the situation isn’t nearly as important as I think it is? Should I go back and fill in the end of the exercise? Probably. What’s the point of doing something if I don’t see it through to the conclusion? I mean with everything else I’ve done I haven’t let myself quit because it got hard or I didn’t understand. I have pushed myself physically, in order to make this work for me and get through my issues, I need to make this work mentally too.

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