Are unhelpful thoughts causing you problems?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Woman thinking

Unhelpful Negative Thoughts.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What are unhelpful thoughts?

Unhelpful thoughts are part of some people’s self-talk. What you tell yourself often enough becomes automatic thoughts. Becoming aware of the negative messages you’re giving your brain and challenging those messages is a part of the process of change that we call Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

In the early days of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT,) researchers and theoreticians noticed a connection between the kind of automatic thoughts or self-talk that some people engaged in and the development of severe mental illnesses, particularly depression and anxiety. Originally these kinds of thoughts were described as irrational thoughts or dysfunctional thoughts. Those labels seem to me to be judgmental. Recently I’ve noticed therapists using the term unhelpful thoughts, and I believe that’s a much better way to describe these automatic thoughts.

Most of these unhelpful thoughts are the result of one or more informal logical fallacies. When you think unhelpful thoughts, they seem true to you, but when an outside observer looks at the evidence, these unhelpful thoughts don’t hold up. These categories of unhelpful thoughts may be called by different names, but here is my version.

All-or-nothing thinking is unhelpful.

This unhelpful thought involves looking at things in black-or-white or yes-or-no categories. For the person with all-or-nothing thinking, there is no middle ground. They tell themselves, “I must be perfect, or I’m a failure.” This type of thinking has led to an increase in depression and even suicide attempts at some of the prestigious colleges where students fall into the trap of believing there only two grades and A or a Not-A. This is a form of perfectionism in which one flaw makes the person worthless. While striving for self-improvement is worthwhile, believing that you must be perfect or you’re no good, will undermine your self-esteem and lead to depression.

Overgeneralization from a negative experience is an unhelpful thought.

This unhelpful thought involves the belief that one negative experience predicts the future. The person tells themselves, “I didn’t get hired for this job. I’ll never get any job.” If you get turned down for a date, you tell yourself no one will ever like me, and I will be alone the left rest of my life.

Having a negative mental filter creates unhelpful thoughts.

Someone with a negative mental filter never sees their accomplishments but only their mistakes. The student who gets one question wrong on a test believes that that means they’re stupid despite the overwhelming number of correct answers.

A person with a negative mental filter fails to get a promotion or is turned down for a raise, and they believe that means they are no good at their jobs and are at risk of being fired.

Discounting the positive is a common unhelpful thought.

Someone with this unhelpful thought might apply for a job and get hired, but rather than believing this is because they were a good candidate, they will tell themselves they only got hired because nobody better applied. No matter how many successes this person has; they only remember their failures and expect to fail the next time they attempt something.

Mind reading is a very unhelpful way of thinking.

People who practice mind-reading believe that when someone doesn’t return a phone call, this means that that person hates them. The mind reader is continually telling themselves that something terrible is about to happen. Since they always predict the worst, they see the worst in every person and situation they encounter. Expecting your partner to be a mind reader is an unhelpful thought that comes up often in couples counseling.

Jumping to dire conclusions is an unhelpful thought.

The jumping to conclusions unhelpful thought takes you from the weather report saying it will rain tomorrow to canceling your camping trip because you’re sure there’s likely to be flooding and lightning might strike your camp.

People with this unhelpful thought process always expect the worst possible outcome. It won’t invest in a retirement account because the stock market might crash. They don’t want to go on a vacation because the plane might crash.

Emotional reasoning will mislead you.

Feelings can be a useful source of information, but not everything you feel is real. Just because something scares you does not mean it is dangerous. Feeling embarrassed about something you did doesn’t mean everyone else noticed and is judging you. Question whether your feelings are providing you accurate information, or are you assuming that because you feel something that makes it accurate?

Trying to live by a long list of absolute rules is unhelpful.

Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do and beating yourself up if you break any of the rules is a very unhelpful way of thinking. “I should never have said anything to her. I’m such an idiot.” Trying to live by an arbitrary list of “should’s” and “musts” can result in a lot of emotional problems.

Negative self-labeling is unhelpful.

If you make a mistake or your performance is less than you would like it to be, don’t call yourself stupid or clumsy. Telling yourself, you’re a failure, creates failure.

Trying to control things that are not in your control is unhelpful.

If you’re one of those people, who believes that everything that goes wrong is your fault, you have developed a very unhelpful way of thinking. Don’t try to control or protect other people by anticipating what could go wrong in their lives. You can plan, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your planning and worrying will somehow make everything come out the way you want it to.

What should you do if your life is full of unhelpful thoughts?

If you find that you fall into frequent use of these unhelpful thoughts, begin to challenge those anxiety-producing thoughts. Ask yourself what the evidence is that this thought is true. Get a second opinion from a friend. You may find self-help books based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, especially helpful. Consider working with the counselor or therapist. A good coach can help improve an athlete’s performance, and a good counselor can help you overcome the problem of frequent unhelpful thoughts.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Six David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Dark Family Secrets: Some family secrets can be deadly.

What if your family secrets put you in danger?

Letters from the Dead The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead?

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive?

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon.

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Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking, and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders, see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter.

Self-talk and affirmations change your life.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Positive self-talk

Positive Affirmations
Self Talk makes you who you are.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Self-talk makes you who you are.

Not all self-talk is positive. You may tell yourself positive things or you may criticize and belittle yourself. What you say to and about yourself, both out loud and in that running dialogue which takes place in your head determines who you become. What you repeat to yourself becomes your worldview. Having adopted that self-belief either positive or negative and with daily reinforcement, your brain heads your request.

Your unconscious thought processes will work overtime to make what you predict for yourself come true. It is natural to believe yourself. Would you lie to yourself? Your brain will believe you even when you tell it lies.

You may be programming your mind to believe you are incapable of better things. You can easily convince yourself that things will never be better for you. Ask yourself how sure you are about that. Could you be creating your own low self-esteem by trying to convince your brain that there is no use in trying?

Positive affirmations can create a happy successful life.

People who have used positive affirmations find that it changes their outlook on life. Telling yourself positive things makes them come to pass. There are a number of positive affirmation sites out there on the internet. Sundays I publish an inspirational post, many of which would make a good positive affirmation.

Many people find that they are working on one specific area of their life and they adopt an affirmation that attracts the feelings they need to set them on the right path. Whether you pick an affirmation from a ready-made list or you write a self-statement these things you tell yourself can help you create the life you would like.

Two times affirmations are most effective.

Personally, I have found that there are two times of day when affirmations and negative self-statements for that matter, are especially potent. Use affirmations when you are starting and when you are stopping an activity, especially your day.

Early each day, get things started in a positive direction by repeating your affirmation. This sets the stage for doing and feeling things that are consistent with the sort of life you wish for. If you leave home looking for the bad things in life you will easily find them If you prime your brain to notice those patches of sunshine, those moments of happiness, those will become more frequent.

Ending the day with a positive affirmation can also be useful. Avoid negative self-talk. Tell yourself something at bedtime and your brain seems to occupy itself all night with planning to create these things. Dwelling on what could go wrong tomorrow will keep you up all night and may be the cause of an awful next day.

You will sleep better if you slip off to dreamland thinking about the good that you may do and experience tomorrow. For those of you with a particular religious bent, prayer, telling your higher power, whom many of you call God, about your troubles and asking for help in overcoming difficulties can show significant benefits.

A word of caution about prayer as an affirmation.

When using evening prayer as a way to clear out the negative and create the positive be very careful to not ask God to fix something and then after saying “goodnight God” take that worry back from God and spend the rest of the night trying to fix it yourself. You can’t give something away, particularly a problem given to God, and then keep taking it back.

Remember to end these prayers or meditations with a thank you to the universe or that higher power for the help you expect to receive. Withholding that thank you will suggest to your brain that you have some doubts that the particular force you have requested help from can or will be able to help you.

Negative, critical self-talk become a sort of anti-affirmation.

If you tell yourself you can’t then you won’t be able to. Those who consistently tell themselves they are too old, too stupid or too fat, become or stay in those conditions. If you were put down or bullied as a child and you continue to repeat those negative things others told you, you have become your own life bully and are creating failure.

Negative affirmations can be the self-handicapping that keeps you stuck.

A common misconception is that self-criticism will make you work harder. Telling yourself you are a failure will not inspire you to work harder. It is likely to make you feel helpless and uninspired. You can learn to be helpless from what others told you and you can also teach yourself to be helpless by the put downs you repeat to yourself.

Don’t lie to yourself.

In creating affirmations a common mistake is to start by telling yourself things you can’t believe. Don’t say “I am the most beautiful, smartest person on earth.” You either won’t believe this and will give up on affirmations all together, or you will believe this and become delusional.

Begin by telling yourself you are a beautiful person just the way you are. You are smart enough to create a happy life. You can set your course for a goal and accomplish that goal. Pick goals that you can and will believe, if not now then eventually. Positive affirmations should be things you can believe in.

Here are some examples of positive affirmations that have helped people transform their lives.

I deserve to be happy.

I can do this.

I am getting better every day.

I deserve a good life.

I am learning to love myself.

There are many more powerful positive affirmations. Which ones will you adopt, tell yourself daily and take with you on the journey to a happy life?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

What does being sad say about you?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Sad child

Sad.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What do you tell yourself when you are sad?

Many of us can’t bear to let ourselves be sad. Not because the feeling is so unbearable but because we tell ourselves that if I feel that way there is something wrong with me. That insistence that we should not feel what we feel or that feelings are negative, can keep you from learning the lessons that feeling are trying to teach you.

Those things we tell ourselves to try to avoid feeling what we feel can keep us stuck in those negative feelings a lot longer than if you let yourself feel and then decided what you wanted to do about that feeling.

Do you tell yourself these things when you feel a sad emotion coming on?

1. If I am sad that means I am weak.

Sad or even depressed does not mean week. Feeling sad means you are normal, especially if the sad is for what you see happening to others. Only a psychopath can see a child being harmed and not feel sad. So unless you are aspiring to become a psychopath let yourself feel sad when things happen that should make you sad.

Being sad is not weak, it is realistic. What you need to do is not stay stuck in the sadness but look for ways to be kind and compassionate to those that suffer.

That list of people who you need to be kind to – your name should be up at the top of the list of people deserving kindness.

2. Do you think being sad is pitiful?

Pity is a looking down on others emotion. Why are you looking down at yourself?

Be compassionate with yourself. Beating yourself up or telling yourself not to feel what you feel will undermine your ability to use feelings as a reliable guide to life events. It is not pitiful to be you.

3. If I let myself be sad I am a basket case.

It is not people who feel that end up in emotional trouble. People who try to hold things in eventually melt down or they become dead inside.

Some feelings have to be felt before you can move on. If someone dies feel the grief. Be sad when sad things happen.

Do not let sad or your efforts to not feel sad take over your life.

4. Being sad makes me inferior.

Being sad is a normal human emotion. Everyone can and does feel sad some of the time. What matters is what you do with that feeling. Do you get sad when you should and then let it pass or do you get stuck there?

You do not need to be less feeling and more numb than others to think of yourself as acceptable.

It is not the feeling sad that defines you, it is what you do with that emotion once it has visited you.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.