Challenge Thoughts

We know that violent reactions come when our emotions are highly charged.  But did you know that our emotions come from our thoughts? Here’s how this can play out in our mind:

  • Someone, like our partner, says or does something that happens to push one of our buttons. We call these upsetting words or actions “triggers”.
  • Distorted thinking causes us to misinterpret the information or action as awful and a threat to our well-being. Note: these thoughts often happen very quickly and without our noticing them. A series of four or five thoughts leading to a wrong conclusion can take a fraction of a second.
  • Because we see a threat, our minds generate very strong, negative emotions like hurt or fear.
  • These powerful emotions tell us we need to take action: fight or flee.
  • Our bodies respond, sometimes by using force (violence), in an attempt to change the situation and make it “safe” for ourselves.

If we change the thoughts that happen after a trigger event, we change our emotions, which in turn can eliminate our destructive behavior.  Because these thoughts happen very quickly and at a subconscious level, it takes time and effort to tune in to the original thoughts that lead to our reaction. Like the slow motion process we talked about in Step 2, revisiting those times when we got angry can help us see what’s happening.

Journaling is a technique that helps us gain better insight into the thoughts that lead us to strong reactions. The journaling we’re talking about here is a specific process, not just writing down whatever comes to mind. By repeating this process over and over, we begin to disconnect our buttons. As a result, we are angry less often. And, when we do get angry, it is with less intensity. Like almost everything we learn in life, this process of challenging thoughts becomes easier and faster with practice. Click the button below to learn more about how you can journal to unpack your emotional triggers.

By journaling, we’re looking for the thoughts that happen after a triggering event but before we feel an emotion or have an emotional reaction. We are especially looking for distorted thinking that leads us into an over-sized and undesirable reaction. Thought statements that contain “must” and “should” are often distorted and therefore get us into trouble. Spend some time looking at the different types of distorted thinking. Especially spend time considering how to challenge these distortions. You’ll find examples of both by clicking on the button below.
Distorted thinking happens when our mind convinces us of something that really isn’t true. These inaccurate thoughts usually generate negative emotions by telling us things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

When we see situations more accurately, without distorted thinking, we might still see them as inconvenient, unfortunate, or disappointing. But these conclusions are more neutral and do not require a response from us. When we allow distorted thinking to creep in, we see things as awful and threatening and feel compelled to change the situation.

By learning to identify distorted thinking, we can question it and prove it wrong. When we challenge distorted thinking over and over again, we replace it with more rational, balanced thinking. This means we stop seeing so many situations as threatening, stop feeling such powerful “I gotta stop this now” type of emotions, and therefore are far less likely to resort to violence.

Journaling does something else for us. It allows us to imagine, even after the fact, how we could have best handled a situation. Then, the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation, we are much more likely to respond in this different and better way. Flight instructors use simulators to help prepare people for flying an airplane without actually being airborne. This works the same way. We can envision our best response when we have plenty of time and a clear head (not when we’re in lizard brain mode). Anticipating the best response makes us much more likely to handle a tough situation well the next time we actually experience it. Learn more about this process by clicking the button below.

Read more about Step 4 – Challenge Thoughts here.