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How to cope with negative thinking with CBT

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a style of counselling that looks at how thoughts and patterns of behaviour affect mood,

I am going to do a series of blog posts about CBT.  This one looks at Negative Automatic Thoughts or NATs.

What is a NAT?

Imagine you texted your friend Emma yesterday asking if she wants to meet for coffee next week and she hasn’t replied yet.  What would you do?  Here are some fictional examples of how different people might react:

Person 1

Thoughts

  • I hope Emma is OK?  What if she has had an accident?  Maybe she is really ill? 

Possible emotions

  • Anxiety

Possible behaviour

  • Sending lots of follow up texts or making lots of phone calls to check all is ok.  This could come across as needy.

Person 2

Thoughts

  • Emma is inconsiderate.  How dare she not reply.

Emotions

  • Anger

Behaviour

  • Send Emma an angry text message which could cause an argument or falling out between friends.

Person 3

Thoughts

  • I don’t think Emma likes me.  Of course she doesn’t want to go out for coffee with me.  I am not a good person to be around.

Feelings

  • low self worth, insecure

Behaviour

  • Be withdrawn around people and find it hard to make friends.

Person 4

Thoughts

  • Emma hasn’t texted me back.  She’s probably busy and hasn’t got round to it yet. 

Feelings

  • No change in feelings in response to this

Behaviour

  • Give Emma a bit longer to reply or send a quick reminder to her.

Do you recognise yourself in any of those possible reactions?  It’s easy to see that person 4 might be better at relationships with others and feel more secure and relaxed.

NATS in CBT

In CBT we work with the idea that we all have automatic thoughts, some of which are negative and these are called NATS (negative automatic thoughts).  In the example above Person 1 instantly thought something bad had happened to Emma.  

We aren’t usually aware of our NATs (unless we pay attention to them) and they can influence how we feel and act a great deal. Of course sometimes our NATs are right! Maybe your friend is being inconsiderate or is in trouble but it isn’t helpful to always assume the worst.

CBT encourages you to look at the evidence for the thoughts popping in to your head all the time.

NATs happen all the time. Here are a few examples of minor situations and NATs that some people might have.

  • your boss asks you for a meeting (I am in trouble)
  • you get stuck in traffic (this is just my luck – I always get stuck in traffic)
  • a stranger smiles at you (do I look stupid)
  • you feel a bit unwell (oh that’s it I have covid)

In CBT one of the first things we try to do is help you to identify these NATs.  Everyone has NATs – and it’s not possible to get rid of them completely.  But if you can become more aware of them you can start to challenge them. 

As a therapist I challenge your thinking a little bit and this can feel uncomfortable. If you have always held a certain belief or thought a certain way it can be hard to look from a different angle.  Over time though you learn how to do this yourself and can start to challenge these NATs on your own.  This is one great aspect of CBT – it teaches you skills that you can use over and over for the rest of your life.

In the next blog I will cover unhelpful thinking styles. We all have a tendency to certain thinking styles and once you become aware of what your unhelpful styles are.

About Me

My name is Anna and I decided to train in counselling because in my work as a massage therapist I realised how many of my clients would benefit from counselling.  I offer CBT and Person Centred counselling.

I believe everyone is important, valuable and has the right to feel safe and it’s my mission to help as many people as possible feel that way.  If you would like a chat to see if counselling could help you please contact me.  I offer a free 20 minute phone chat to talk over whether counselling could be right for you.  If you would like to know more please contact me

If you are ready to book in you can do so online here