The cognitive-behavioural theoretical approach enables us to understand how anxiety or depression comes into existence in our daily living based on the three functions of our life i.e. the thought, feelings, and behaviour.
Among most communities in Africa, people use three stones to wage the saucepan when cooking using firewood and in case one is missing or not of the same size, the saucepan may not balance well on the fire stones. This may help us to understand how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors act when our thinking is negative hence affecting feelings and behaviors negatively, and vice versa.
We commonly have thoughts instance self-criticism which frequently resurfaces in our thoughts and often breaks us down or holds back the zeal to move forward. Without awareness of these thoughts, our feelings and behaviors get shaped negatively. It is helpful to take note of such and work on your positive attitude.
Thoughts may come out through many ways as discussed below; (Source: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company):
- All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
- Over-generalization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
- Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
- Disqualifying the positives: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way, you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
- Jumping conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
- Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.
- Fortune telling: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
- Magnification (Catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
- Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
- Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldn’t, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “thoughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt.
- Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. “I’m a loser”. When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him “he’s a looser”. Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
- Personalisation: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.
Emotions are expressed verbally and its how a person feels internally. For instance “I feel like no one cares” hence it makes you feel sad, “I am hated” hence you isolate yourself among others. All this originates from our thoughts.
Although our feelings stem from what we think of, we should be able to realign or justify our thoughts so as to guide feelings. This strongly calls for exploration of the emotions.
Behaviors are outcome of our thoughts and our emotions. When we are able to change our thoughts, our behaviors will naturally change. When we are able to shift our emotions, our behaviors will also change. We can also, however, shift our emotions and our cognition by creating changes in our behaviors directly. This can include forcing ourselves to exercise despite the lack of desire to do so, or, attending a social event despite the anxiety experienced around groups of people, etc.
The thoughts, feelings and behaviors interact with each other in causing changes in our life, either negatively or positively. We can use the triangle to create self-awareness and internal ability to manage those thoughts, feelings and resulting behaviors that often times get us out of our control.
Article by Daniel Comboni Ocen