Our thoughts are primarily negative all day without realizing it. While that can sometimes serve as a protective measure, more often those negative, unmanaged thoughts only make us very unhappy.
The primary, proven step is to catch an unhelpful thought (meaning you have to be mindful and breathing deeply enough for your brain to get enough fresh oxygen to make great decisions), then vividly imagine a red, octagonal STOP sign and shout STOP! If you are around others, I’d advise you to shout silently, but with some emotion. That should short circuit your problem thought for 2 to 6 seconds, so you need to immediately substitute it with an entirely different, accurate, positive thought, or even a problem such as, “Where did I leave the keys to ___?”
Why don’t you take your most troubling thought right now? When you have troubling thoughts it is a great opportunity to practice CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Originally introduced to treat depression it is now used for a variety of issues, such as negative thoughts, anxieties, fearful thoughts, unnecessary worry and a host of other troublesome automatic thinking patterns. A thought record is one of the fundamental tools in CBT.
The underlying principle can be summarized as “what do you believe, and why do you believe it and are you aware of the feeling/emotion in your body when you think this thought?”. A columned thought record can be used to:
• identify negative automatic thoughts (NATs)
• help you understand the links between thoughts and emotions
• examine the evidence for and against a selected NAT – is it true, what can be done about it or if it isn’t true then what is true, accurate and reasonable thinking instead of falsely ruminating
In therapy clients often need assistance and practice at identifying the link between thoughts and emotions before they move on to challenging thoughts and substituting more helpful thoughts for less helpful ones. Some clients might find it helpful to practice identifying NATs using a Simple Thought Record before introducing the complexity of evidence-gathering and thought challenging.
The principle stems from Socratic Reasoning (is it true, is it always true, then is it false, is it always false)
The simplest version is:
What is your core belief (negative thought)?
List 3 reasons why it is true (or useful, or why I want it):
List 3 reasons why it might not be true (or why it would not be good for me):
What could you do to improve or eliminate this situation:
Our thoughts control how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Positive thoughts lead to us feeling good and negative thoughts can put us down. Sometimes our thoughts happen so quickly that we fail to notice them, but they can still affect our mood. These are called automatic thoughts. They are often negative or at least not useful. They can even apply to ruminations about romantic partners lost or present.
Oftentimes, our automatic thoughts are negative and irrational – sometimes not but can still be intrusive and unwanted. Identifying these negative automatic thoughts and replacing them with new rational thoughts can improve our mood.
Though setting and holding boundaries are critical for happiness, so many people report being afraid to set them for fear of losing friends or angering family. Even fewer feel confident in holding them once set. If you don’t hold a boundary and thereby render it permeable, it becomes of no value.
The word “boundary” can be a bit misleading. It conveys the idea of keeping yourself separate. But boundaries are connecting points since they provide healthy rules for navigating relationships, intimate or professional.
1. Boundaries improve our relationships and self-esteem
“Boundaries protect relationships from becoming unsafe. In that way, they actually bring us closer together than farther apart, and are therefore necessary in any relationship,” says Melissa Coats, a licensed professional counselor.
Having boundaries allows you to make yourself a priority, whether that’s in self-care, career aspirations, or within relationships.
2. Boundaries can be flexible
Don’t draw your boundaries in permanent ink. It’s good to think about them occasionally and reassess them.
“When boundaries are too rigid or inflexible, problems can occur,” says Maysie Tift, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
You don’t want to isolate yourself, avoid closeness altogether, or give up all your time to others. Creating boundaries that are too bendy is often common for women.
Tift highlights the possibility that taking “an overly sacrificing approach to relationships creates imbalance or exploitation.
3. Boundaries allow us to conserve our emotional energy
“Your self-esteem and identity can be impacted, and you build resentment toward others because of an inability to advocate for yourself,” explains Justin Baksh, a licensed mental health counselor.
You don’t need to have the same boundaries or comfort level for everyone. Boundaries that let us have a different radius depending on the situation or person can also help you maintain enough energy to care for yourself.
Understand that just because you may be happy to lend a hand to your best friend on moving day doesn’t mean you also have to do the heavy emotional lifting when someone texts about their latest drama.
4. Boundaries give us space to grow and be vulnerable
We all deal with complex feelings when life happens. By setting boundaries and then breaking them, you’re showing your vulnerability when the time is right.
This could be as simple as talking openly to friends and family. When we display our vulnerability to someone, we let them know that they’re welcome to open up to us sometime when they need to.
But vulnerability and oversharing are different. Shared vulnerability brings people closer together over time. On the other hand, oversharing can use drama to manipulate, hold another person emotionally hostage, or force the relationship in one direction. Here are some examples of problem behaviors:
– TMI red flags
– Posting personal rants and attacks on social media
– No filter or regard to who gets a download of daily dramas
– Sharing personal details with new people in hopes of hurrying the friendship along
– Dominated, one-sided conversations
– Expecting on-call emotional therapy from friends and family
Learning this difference is also a critical part of setting and communicating boundaries. The occasional overshare isn’t a crime. We’re all likely guilty of a little harmless TMI now and then. But if you suspect you’re doing it regularly, you could be trampling other people’s boundaries.
Determine your borders by examining your rights and needs
We can’t just search on Etsy for a set of hand-knit boundaries to make our own. Boundaries are a deeply personal choice and vary from one person to the next, and we shape them throughout our lives.
Our boundaries are shaped by:
-our heritage or culture
-the region we live in or come from
-whether we’re introverted, extroverted, or somewhere in between
-our life experiences
-our family dynamics
“We have all come from unique families of origin,” Kennedy explains. “We each make different meaning of situations. And we may change our boundaries over the years as we mature and our perspective shifts. One standard cannot hold for all. Rather, each person needs to find that level of comfort within themselves.”
You can investigate and define your boundaries with self-reflection:
1. What are your rights?
“It is important in setting boundaries to identify your basic human rights,” says Judith Belmont, mental health author, and licensed psychotherapist. She offers the following examples.
I have a right to say no without feeling guilty.
I have a right to be treated with respect.
I have a right to make my needs as important as others.
I have a right to be accepting of my mistakes and failures.
I have a right not to meet others’ unreasonable expectations of me.
Once you identify your rights and choose to believe in them, you’ll find honoring them easier. When you honor them, you’ll stop spending energy pacifying or pleasing others who dishonor them.
2. What does your gut tell you?
Your instincts can help you determine when someone is violating your boundaries or when you need to set one up.
“Check in with your body (heart rate, sweating, tightness in chest, stomach, throat) to tell you what you can handle and where the boundary should be drawn,” Kennedy says.
Maybe you clench your fists when your roommate borrows your new coat, for example. Or you tighten your jaw when your relatives ask about your dating life.
3. What are your values?
Your boundaries also relate to your moral philosophy, Baksh says. He recommends identifying 10 important values. Then narrow that list to five, or even three.
“Reflect on how often those three are challenged, tread upon, or poked in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable,” he says. “This lets you know if you have strong and healthy boundaries or not.”
Have you ever felt out of place or exhausted because of someone else?
Someone just crossed your boundary.
Listen to your body. Check-in with it.
Are your shoulders up around your ears?
Nasty headache coming on?
That’s the time to firmly and politely speak up.
Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.