Addressing Your Thought Patterns

Here at YFEM, self-care and growth are ideals that we encourage everyone to fully indulge in. Growing out of negative and unhealthy thought patterns and cycles feels impossible when you’re doing it on your own, and fully diving into caring for one’s mental health can be difficult for the average young woman in Africa, as dialogues around mental health are still relatively new and often still met with negative stigmas. We also understand that even with the ideal amount of support from friends and family, there is still a lot of work that one has to do with regards to how one talks to themselves. Dr Kelsei LeAnn, a clinical therapist who has specialized in childhood trauma has identified negative thought patterns that people may struggle with and that may inhibit individual growth, through the course of self-development. For each thought pattern she provides a healthy response to get past the limiting barrier. This article is adapted from Dr Kelsei LeAnn program “The You Effect,” which is available in greater detail in her podcast and book of the same name.

1) Address the intrusive thoughts

The biggest threat to our self esteem and confidence is what we tell ourselves, so this should be the first area we deal with. We will begin with identifying the types of bad thought patterns that are intrusive, we should learn to actively catch them and correct them. Types of bad thoughts :

i) Ignoring the good

  • This is when that bad voice makes you pay attention to just the bad things, making you overly focus on just the bad aspects
  • In relation to achievements, your mind may make you believe that you’re completely inadequate because you failed at one thing
  • This type of thinking may make you blow things out of proportion i.e. mentally enlarging the effects of something small

Focus Points:

  • Actively give yourself credit for your achievements, this may mean writing them down so that you can continuously go back and take a look at them and reflect upon them.
  • Continuously remind yourself that one error is a learning curve not a thing to be ashamed of. So when you fail at something ask yourself “How can I learn from this?”

ii) Predicting the future and Mind Reading

  • Concluding that things will end in a certain way because of how you feel about your present self
  • Mind reading refers to the assumption that you know what someone is thinking

Focus Points:

  • Learning that your present situation is not a good predictor of the future
  • Suppose we jump on the idea that the present is an accurate predictor of the future, then come up with ideas on how to change the present, it is the only part of time that you have control over

iii) Negative labelling

  • Assuming that a bad feeling you have about yourself transcend into everything else you do
  • That is to say, if you feel bad about one thing you tend to feel bad about everything else
  • Commonly, people who feel bad about this feel guilty when they set boundaries, stand up for themselves or say their beliefs
  • These people often mistake the emotions related to guilt and shame and convince themselves that they are the cause of the negative things going on in their lives
  • – Guilt “I did this”
  • – Shame “I am this”
  • So in this category, people adopt the shame they were taught to have by people they have had relationships, e.g. the parents who told you that you were not going to succeed or the friend who continuously called you stupid. Over time people accept this information as their “I am” and use that narrative to derive the “I did”
  • It results in a lot of self blame

Focus Points:

  • Realize the difference between guilt and shame, learn that you are allowed to express yourself, and have individual opinions about something. That is nothing to feel bad about.
  • Disproving these negative thoughts.
  • Realizing the value of your worth and seeing that your needs must be considered as well
  • We break down the thoughts (write down if necessary)
  • Avoid thinking in extremes

iv) Using feelings as statements

  • Immediately concluding that your feelings about a situation are the truth e.g. “I feel left out therefore they do not want me around.”

Focus Points:

  • Do not react immediately, take a deep breath and count down from ten
  • Make decisions about a situation based on the facts not based on how you feel about it, e.g. “Although I feel left out right now, the fact is that they usually include me and the subject being discussed right now doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

v) Should statements

  • Becoming discouraged because something you believe should have happened didn’t
  • “By the time I am 25 I should be married and have a degree and a job.”
  • “I did this for them; they should do this for me.”
  • “People should treat me this way.”

Focus Points:

  • There is nothing wrong with setting personal goals and boundaries, what matters is how you react to them
  • Even though we make plans, the truth of the matter is that we do not have total control of circumstances and other people, the only aspect we have full control of is how we behave and react.
  • Learning to adapt to present situations when things don’t turn out how we wanted them to
  • You’re allowed to feel upset but don’t become dejected
  • Again, look at the facts e.g. you are 25, you do not have the degree, the job and you’re single. The three goals here are marriage, a degree and employment. The most important are the degree and the job because you have more control over those. Make job applications all over and prepare yourself for possible rejection, meanwhile, pay attention to the more actively occurring thing on the list which is the degree; study, and follow the instructions, gradually work your way through these until you eventually do achieve them.
  • Accept that things may not go your way so you must ask yourself how best you can move forward
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