>There are many people who believe that we can change our moods and ultimately our attitudes by changing the way we think. This is the basis of David Burn’s argument in the Feeling Good Handbook when he talks about moods that people often find themselves in. He states that negative thoughts make these moods worse and can lead to depression and anxiety. Burns lists many examples of distorted thinking that can lead to negative thoughts. One look at the list tells us that even the happiest of us can easily recognise instances where we experience this kind of distortion of thought. Burns makes it perfectly clear that we cannot be happy all the time and it is totally unrealistic to think so. What Burns recognises is the need to analyse and change distorted thinking with a view that one is able to see situations from a different viewpoint and not place a negative connotation on everything. Burns advocates analysing the ‘ vital connections’ between thoughts and emotions which he says is the first step in breaking out of negative thinking and says that thoughts that bring anger, anxiety, guilt and frustration are often unrealistic and distorted even if they seem real at that very moment. The key to stopping this is to become aware of the presence of distortions and how they develop thought patterns. Burns also helps the reader believe that being aware of negative thought distortions is the first step in recognising what thoughts are appropriate, which should be expressed and which should be changed. Perhaps with a view on the massive motivation and self-help market that exists particularly in the US, he states that at times anger and irritability when expressed in the right way and in the right place is totally appropriate especially within the context of a loving, honest relationship. Many people have major problems accepting the way they feel and this can lead to further distorted thinking. Burns advocates asking yourself questions to determine whether feelings should be expressed or changed.
1. How long has the feeling been held? If guilt is still being shown about an event that happened long ago, we have to ask ourselves, what is the purpose of holding it for much longer?
2. Are we willing to learn from the pain of negative experiences and thoughts and see them as part of a growth process?
3. Are we willing to change the way we think about a situation if we accept that our feelings are based on distorted thoughts patterns and then face the situation constructively?
4. Are we able and willing to judge if expressing feelings like anger at any given moment is helpful or hurtful? For example, avoiding conflict in a relationship can lead to feelings of resentment that can damage the relationship.
5. Are feelings shown against something that is completely out of one’s control such as frustration at a traffic jam or the economic situation?
6. Are feelings that are being shown a cover-up for the real problem that is being suppressed?
7. Are feelings of frustration to do with unrealistic views of the world aligned with ‘should’ ‘shouldn’t’ or must thinking?
8. Are feelings to do with unrealistic self-expectations that facilitate perfectionism and ‘ all or nothing’ thinking?
9. Are the feelings attached to a general feeling of hopelessness? Many people who believe they are hopeless will go to great lengths to find the evidence to support the theory.
10. Are the feelings attached to a sense of low self-esteem? People with high self-esteem can take criticism and rejection in a constructive manner. On the other hand, people with low self-esteem see themselves as inferior and display defensiveness and become angry quicker.
These techniques are the basis of cognitive therapy and when used correctly can chart the path to a more positive life.
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