What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
How your brain lies to you
Your brain regularly lies to you. It makes up stuff that isn’t based on fact.Your brain uses your fears and insecurities to frighten you without you realising it. So who is in control, you or your brain? Yes – they can be seen as separate. In fact, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is all about teaching you to see your thoughts as separate to you. This means that even though you will think thoughts, you don’t have to do what they say or actively listen to them. Learning to dismiss your thoughts is a sign of mental strength and resilience.
The bus driver analogy
Imagine being a bus driver. Your task is to get from point A to point B. (An example in real life could be the task of finding a job/relationship/degree etc.) So, you’re in the driver’s seat ready to go but you have all these noisy opinionated passengers on your bus (just like the uninvited messages your brain sneds you).
It becomes hard to concentrate and you are distracted by them shouting various warnings. “You can’t drive” says one. Another says, “What if we get lost, let’s not do it” and another might state, “What if we have an accident en route?”. The passengers, like your thoughts can bombard you with everything that could go wrong (Cognitive Behavioural Therapists call the ‘catastrophising’). You end up so caught up in the dialogue that you struggle to finish the taks or worse still, you don’t even attempt to depart from point A. That just won’t do.. you have to remember that your brain lies to you.
The brain is unreliable in so many ways. The brain doesn’t operate on facts, it operates on your own personal truth – your perceptions of the world, not the way the world actually is.
This is when the brain looks for evidence that already confirms what we think. Our focus becomes filtered to a point where we can become oblivious to evidence that goes against our thinking. if we were chated by a plumber doing work for us, we may decide plumbers are cheats and we will tune in to any stories that confirm this. We all want to feel we have a handle on reality and that we know what is going on. Cognitive bias is extremely subjective NOT objective. It’s the brain’s way of trying to simplify information.
Negative automatic thoughts appear for all of us and it is our job to challenge thought and to not believe everything we think.
The brain leads you to believe that the worst case scenario might unfold. This can start out with “what if…?” thinking. Catastrophising causes unnecessary anxiety and often the worst case scenario doesn’t occur.
Have you ever assumed that you know what someone else is thinking? If someone seems a bit rude you might think that they don’t like you. If they haven’t stated that they don’t like you, it might be possible that you are misintepreting their body language. We can never truly know what another person is thinking unless we ask them.
Pessimists have a very active negative filter. This is when you focus on what is bad. We all do it but it’s unhelpful as there is good too. If you catch yourself only focusing on what’s not good in your life, start a gratitude journal. Write in it regularly and make notes of what is good, no matter how small.
Your brain loves to entertain thoughts that put you down and make you feel you aren’t good enough. Again, what do you gain from this? Nothing at all. Stop being a perfectionist and accept that you make mistakes like the rest of. Show yourself a little self compassion and relax a little. Don’t allow your brain to bully you – let those thoughts float by. If you catch yourself being self critical, say to yourself “I see that I am having a self critical thought”. Acknowledge it as a thought not as the truth. Thoughts are not facts.
Predicting the future
No one knows what will happen in the future. When we spend too much time panicking about the future we scare ourselves unnecessarily. The future could be greta but we tend to worry about the future. Part of life is learning to live with uncertainty. See the future as exciting and full of surprises instead of thinking it will be full of problems. The other mantra that you can use that really helps is “I will cross that bridge when I get to it”. Don’t ruin the present moment, your life right now, by worrying about things that may never happen.
Personalising occurs when we blame ourselves for things that we have no control over. For example, you invite people over for a party and they don’t enjoy themselves. You may feel it’s your fault but it;s not your job to make others happy. Adults are responsible for themselves. Learn to distinguish between what is truly your fault and what isn’t.
Being aware that your brain engages in unhelpful thinking is a good start. When you are more insightful into your inner dialogue, you will be more likely to balance those thoughts out with more rational ones.
Thoughts lead to emotions and then emotions lead to us behaving in certain ways. In the thought is negative, the emotion will be too and we may then end up engaging in unhelpful behaviour. Be sure to check into your brain’s activity regularly rather than being a passive recipient of thoughts that have no evidence whatsoever.
If you struggle to distance yourself from your thinking, seeing a CBT counsellor can help you to become more adept at thought challenging. It can make a MAJOR difference to your quality of life.