ANTs – Automated Negative Thoughts
Thousands of thoughts cross our minds each day. And the large proportion of these thoughts are negative, random thoughts that pop up out of nowhere. They tend to flood our mind and make any situation seem worse than it actually is. These unintentional thoughts are known as ANTs or automatic negative thoughts.
Dr. Daniel G. Amen, an American psychiatrist finds 9 types of ANTs:
Also known as polarized thinking, splitting or black or white thinking, this type of ANTs represents a tendency to think in extremes – everything is either good or bad. All-or-nothing thinking often occurs in perfectionists who set unreasonably high standards for themselves. And if their performance is not perfect, they tend to be self-judgmental and see themselves as a failure.
To overcome black or white thinking, you need to work on your self-compassion and to understand that there is the whole continuum between ‘black’ and ‘white’.
2. “Always” thinking
You have a tendency to see one negative event in your life as a continuous pattern. This automatic negative thought is also known as a generalization. For example, if you failed your exam once, you may start believing that you will always fail as if you don’t have control over your actions or behaviors. This is a cognitive distortion that may lead to the development of depression, panic attacks, and agoraphobia symptomatology.
3. Focusing on the negative
A tendency to always see only negative in every situation. You tend to eliminate the positive aspects of any given situation.
4. Emotional Reasoning
“I feel this way – it must be true”. Thinking with your feelings occurs when you have a feeling about something and automatically assume it is correct.
5. Guilt beating
Using excessive guilt to control behavior and thinking in words like “must”, “should”, and “have to”. “Shoulds” and “musts” cause you to have unreasonable and unrealistic demands from yourself and from others. This, in turn, usually leads to disappointments that may trigger symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Making global statements about yourself or other people based on a situation-specific behavior, or using negative terms to describe yourself or others, such as “I am a failure”, “he is a liar” and similar. To overcome this cognitive distortion, you need to challenge yourself to find the evidence that contradicts the label you are making.
Fortune-telling ANTs include predicting the worst even if you don’t know what will happen (“I noticed a small lump in my armpit. I surely have cancer”). People who have panic attacks are usually overwhelmed by this type of ANTs.
8. Mind reading
Mind reading, also known as jumping to conclusions happens when you believe that you know what other people think or how they feel without them telling you. Mind reading often causes problems in relationships as we anticipate that people will act towards us in a certain way.
This ANT makes you feel like a victim because you tend to blame other people for your problems. Blaming others for your failures and taking no responsibility for your own behavior is one of the worst cognitive distortions.
How to Challenge ANTs?
To overcome automatic negative thoughts, you need to recognize the characteristic defects in your negative thoughts. A therapy that proved to be successful in helping people stop the flow of negative thoughts by identifying the distortion in thinking is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Also, there are some self-help techniques that you can use to stop ANTs such as mindfulness meditation, affirmations, and gratefulness practice.
Automatic negative thoughts often mask our perceptions and judgments. Challenging your ANTs will give you control over your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.