Monday, March 9, 2015

Seeing danger - How you think affects how you feel

Are your thoughts making you unhappy?
When someone says, "I need to talk to you." - do you think the worst? Do you tend to notice angry or sad faces more than happy ones? It could be that you've developed hyper-vigilance. This means that your attention is captured by possible threats in your environment. It is important to notice what may be harmful to you, for your own safety, but the persistent focus on possible threat or perceived negative attitudes towards you can lead to depression.

What studies show
In studies on people with and without depression, it was found that those who tended to suffer with this debilitating problem tend to have persistent negative thoughts in their head. Interpretation Bias and Depressive Symptoms And this article: Not all emotions are created equal They also tended to interpret what other people say and do as negative towards themselves. For instance, if someone appears to ignore your comment, you might think, "He/she hates me." or "Well, they're obviously not interested in anything I have to say," or "Why is it every time I go to say something, no one is interested?" or even, "What is wrong with my opinion?" There may even be a tendency to catastrophise: "What's wrong? What have I done wrong? There's something bad going on here...." and, more troubling, is the possibility of these thoughts - "What's wrong with me? Why aren't I good enough?"

Because our negative "script" (persistent internal thoughts) can cause us to misinterpret others' intentions, we could then react negatively, when this is not appropriate or warranted. As a result, our relationships are affected. We walk around thinking people are against us. Our world becomes a dark place.

So what can we do to change this?

Changing thought habits
The human brain is such an amazing organ. It is constantly changing, learning, adapting and for this reason we can actually alter our thought processes to create a more positive 'script'. One way is to try and think from the perspective of others, what they might be going through or that perhaps what we think is happening might not be the case at all. For instance, the person who appears to be ignoring you might:
a) have a hearing difficulty
b) be preoccupied with their thoughts
c) be suffering or unhappy today and not tuned in
d) thought you were talking to someone else
e) be struggling to keep their head together and just can't talk to anyone today

There's lots of possibilities here. If you've developed a habit of thinking negatively and making negative assumptions, you might not be aware of it. I'm going to be absolutely blunt now - the truth is, most people don't go around thinking up ways to hurt you. They have their own problems to deal with. It's not actually about you at all. You're not that important to them. We have to stop assuming that just because we are the most important person in our life, that others feel the same way.

Who is OK?
The theory of Transactional Analysis, more particularly Eric Berne's theories, try to help us understand that our state of mind influences our thoughts and actions. Berne described 4 assumptions:
1. I'm OK and you're OK.
2. I'm OK and you're not OK
3. I"m not OK and you are OK
4. I'm not OK and you're not OK

Can you see how these thoughts could change your interpretations?

Keeping it real
That's not to say we throw out every instinctive reaction. We are primarily social creatures who want to interact positively with others, but there are situations where the other person really is angry or that things could get ugly any second. And we need to take action to avoid trouble. The trick is to interpret each situation accurately. If you're used to interpreting a threat where it might not exist, you will overreact. It's much more healthy to give people the benefit of the doubt. If you're unsure what was meant, ASK! Get more information. Don't assume. And above all, be prepared to forgive. It might pay also to reacquaint yourself with what the full range of human emotions actually looks like, so that you can interpret them better.

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