Thoughts, Feelings and Actions
The Client's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by Aldo R. Pucci
The Keys to Self Awareness and Personal Growth
Our thoughts, feelings and actions are the keys to understanding ourselves. When we understand ourselves we make better decisions, have healthier relationships, and can lead more effective and fulfilling lives. Understanding how our thoughts, feelings and actions interact with each other can help us overcome problems with depression, anxiety, addiction, relationships, trauma symptoms and criminal behaviors. When we understand ourselves, we empower ourselves.
Our brain is constantly thinking, whether we are aware of it or not. It can't not think! Thinking is what brains do. If we are unaware of our thinking, we are living an unconscious and unexamined life. We perceive that we have little control over the events in our lives or our response to these events.
The first step toward increasing self awareness is to begin to pay attention to your thinking. Using a journal to write down thoughts can be helpful. When journaling, simply allow your thoughts to enter your awareness without judging them or trying to change them. The goal here is to increase awareness of your thinking. You may notice as you write that you are having thoughts about your thoughts! That's ok. That's your brain doing what it does best. For example, I may notice myself thinking, "He's an idiot" or "I'm an idiot." Then I begin thinking, "I shouldn't think that." Rather than avoid writing the thought because you judge it as wrong, DO write the thought as well as your thoughts about the thoughts.
Once you have increased awareness of your thinking, you can begin to notice some patterns in your thinking and some common "thinking errors." You may notice your "self talk" - the way you talk to yourself about yourself. Self talk can be affirming or derogatory, such as "I'm ok" v.s. "I'm no good." You may notice patterns in your thinking, such as a pattern of blaming others for your problems or making excuses for yourself or others.
Once you have achieved some awareness of your thought processes, you can begin to learn how thoughts can be rational or irrational, responsible or irresponsible, uplifting or depressing, angering or soothing. With practice and over time, you will come to recognize how your thinking influences your feelings, behaviors and mood states. You will learn how your thinking can improve or worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety, how "stinking thinking" can lead to a relapse to substance use, how some patterns of thinking can lead to criminal behavior and lifestyles, how your thoughts can lead to ongoing trauma and victimization or recovery from trauma and victimization, and how your thinking affects your self worth, success or failure, and day to day decisions.
We all have feelings. It's part of being human, and it's perfectly normal. We experience feelings of pain, anger, sorrow, joy, love, grief, fear, happiness, frustration, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, contentment, peace, sympathy, emptiness, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, despair, bliss, terror, etc. We often label these feelings as "good or bad' and go to great extremes to increase "good" feelings and get rid of "bad" feelings; sometimes to our own demise. Substance abuse and dependence is often the outcome of our efforts to experience pleasure and avoid pain.
When we are able to accept our feelings and know that it's normal to have them, we are better able to cope with them effectively. For example, when I lose someone close to me and I know it's ok to feel sad, I am better able to cope with my grief. If I believe that it's a sign of weakness to show sadness or to cry, I will attempt to hide my feelings and will have difficulty coping with my sad feelings. Many people are socialized to express only happiness and anger. No matter how they are feeling, they will only show happiness or anger to others and will deny having feelings of sadness, guilt, pain or fear.
Coping with feelings involves being able to identify and name the feelings I am experiencing, the ability to accept that I am experiencing them, and knowing effective ways to express my feelings. It is important to note that other people and events do not "make me feel" a certain way. For example, rainy weather doesn't make me depressed and my friend doesn't make me angry. Those depressed and angry feelings are mine and I am in charge of them.
I may choose to feel depressed when it rains or angry when my friend is late, but the weather and my friend are not the causes of my sadness or anger. It's actually the thoughts I am having about the weather and my friend's behavior that determine how intensely sad or angry I feel. For example, if I tell myself that my friend shouldn't be late, that her lateness is a sign of disrespect , I can't stand when people disrespect me, and now I hate her for disrespecting me; I will probably feel intense feelings of anger and pain. If, on the other hand, I tell myself that she is probably late because she had a good reason and will be here soon enough, I may still be bothered or annoyed by her behavior and communicate my displeasure with having to wait, but the intensity of my feelings will be much more neutral and manageable.
My actions or behaviors are the things I do. They are separate from my being or personhood, and result from my thoughts and feelings. I may do a stupid thing without being a stupid person. I can make mistakes without being a failure. I can do something wrong or bad without being a bad person.
It is important to separate a person's actions from their personhood or personality. When I define myself by some past choice I made, I am limiting my ability to change. If I am a bad person, then I can only do bad things. That is an example of permanent thinking, and how permanent thinking effects my behavior and my feelings about myself. If I am a person who made a bad choice, I can make a better choice next time and will feel more hopeful about the future.
When my thinking is rational and responsible, my feelings are more stable and my actions are more effective. I am more likely to get what I want and need, and less likely to get what I don't want and need. It takes some time and effort to learn to recognize "faulty thinking" and how to replace irrational and irresponsible thinking patterns, but the rewards outweigh the effort by far.
With a basic understanding of thoughts, feelings and actions, and how they interact with each other; you are now equipped to focus on the particular patterns of thinking that are driving your feelings and actions. There are specific patterns of thinking that are known to contribute to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, delinquency and criminality. There are thinking patterns that contribute to domestic violence, anger problems, and trauma as well. The next step would be to find self help books and workbooks on the particular problem you are having or books about cognitive behavioral and rational emotive behavioral therapy. Links are provided that might be helpful. If you are experiencing a sense of urgency or desperation, consider using therapy rather than working alone. For addiction, consider 12 step recovery groups, rational recovery, or entering treatment. Stay tuned to this site for additional articles as well.
Assess Your Thinking
- Rational Thinking Score: Analyze Your Thinking with the Rational Thinking Questionnaire and Cognitiv
The Rational Thinking Score (tm) is a website that enables you to examine your thoughts and provides feedback based on your response to the top 50 irrational thoughts.
- The Client\'s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
by Aldo R. Pucci. The Client's Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is a companion manual for people receiving cognitive-behavioral therapy. #Pucci01 - The Client's Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
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