A college student was desperate for money so he enrolled in a depression study and was given a prescription for a new medication being tested. Soon after his girlfriend broke up with him. Sadden, he swallowed all of the depression pills. Soon he started to feel light-headed and panicked over his potential overdose. He quickly called 911. Upon examination a tech saw the young man’s blood pressure was extremely low and his heartbeat was irregular. He began to slip in and out of consciousness and doctors struggled to stabilize his vital signs. In desperation they call the drug company for information about the medication so they could treat him. They came to discover the young man had been taking placebo pills and not the experimental drug. Upon sharing this information with him his vital signs soon returned to normal.
This story, from in the book “The God Shaped Brain” by Dr. Timothy Jennings demonstrates that “what we believe” can have enormous power over us. I see this as I work with clients to help them identify and remove irrational thoughts that cause emotional turmoil and leads to destructive behaviors. For these individuals it is important to become more aware of their negative thinking and understand they have control over their thoughts.
God provides us with great wisdom regarding how to control our negative thinking. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5 “We must take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. You see, we are ultimately responsible for how we think. As individuals we have the ability to choose whether to allow negative thoughts to dominate our thinking or to focus on wholesome thoughts outlined in the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Our minds are battlefields in which Satan continuously attempts to manipulate our thinking. With that in mind, let’s review some of the more common negative thought processes we deal with on a regular basis. See how many you can recognize:
Mind Reading. This is a very common cognitive distortion in which a person believes they know what another person is thinking. They make assumptions how people are reacting to them without any facts to back up their thinking. For example, if you call a friend but they do not call you back so you assume they are angry with you.
Overgeneralization. This occurs when a person takes a single event and draws the assumption “this is the way it always will be”. For example, a husband may have a difficult time fixing a plumbing leak that leads him to say “I am awful at doing home repairs”, when history demonstrates that he has had some success with home repairs.
All-or-Nothing Thinking. Here individuals tend to look at things as either positive or negative. Good or bad. There is no middle ground. This is also known as black or white thinking. “If I don’t get all A’s then I am a complete failure.”
Filtering. This is where we will ignore positive aspects of a situation and focus solely on the negative details. This occurs quite often with Christians as we overlook the numerous blessings God has provided in our lives and instead focus our attention on what we are not happy with at the moment.
Fortune Telling. You tell yourself things are going to go wrong before anything starts. For example, “I know I am going to mess up this big project at work. And I will probably get fired.”
Blaming. This is one most people will recognize. I am sure you have had someone say to you “you make me so angry!” The fact is no one can make us feel a certain way. We instead elect to feel certain emotions.
Unrealistic Expectations. These individuals expect too much from themselves or others and therefore usually set themselves up for failure.
These are only a few cognitive distortions that undermine our thought process and lead to unhealthy feelings and behaviors. By being aware of them we have insight that can strengthen our ability to manage our emotional state and have power over what we believe instead of allowing our beliefs to have power over us.