Rewiring Your Brain

How many times have we caught ourselves thinking things like, How could I be so stupid, or Ahh! This will never work? Actually, our childhood is riddled with these thoughts and we grow up to believe what our minds tell us simply because we didn’t have a system to refute these thoughts when they weren’t based on facts. Nevertheless, it’s never too late because the mind is a funny thing..It can be retrained..

It’s been known for some time that our thoughts influence our emotions. Studies show that there are a lot of people out there who have negative distortions of themselves or exhibit dysfunctional thought patterns..

Take for example, a client of mine who was overcome with guilt because although she remained by her sick mother’s bedside diligently, her mother died when she happened to be running some personal errands..The daughter told herself, I must be a rotten daughter. Her emotional reasoning led her to this guilty thought and depression. It never occurred to her to question her reasoning.

Questioning her in treatment, she was able to recognize that it was an unfortunate circumstance that her mother died when she was absent. However, she was a devoted and loving daughter. Consequently, she was able to grieve for her mother free of her cognitive distortion that she was a rotten daughter.

How your thoughts and you interact can cause different feelings when disappointing things happen. A study was done in a school with 10-year-olds. The children were given a cartoon of an angry coach talking to a children’s team. The coach was pointing to a score of zero and looking down on the young players and scolding them.

There’s a thought bubble on top of each child’s head. Researchers asked the children to write in what he or she thought the kid in the cartoon was thinking – and then draw an arrow to the feeling that they think is connected to this belief.

One thought bubble said, “ Why is he so mean to me, his screaming makes me want to cry?” In other words, the coach’s anger felt like a personal attack, and she drew an arrow to sadness.

Another boy’s thought bubble read, “ Man, we lost, we let the coach down. We’re the worst team ever.” Another example of a kid taking it on himself and feeling bad.

A third child’s interpretation was as follows: “ I won’t be mad. Next time I will be better. The coach could be mad, so what! Next time we’ll do better.” This child realized that the situation wasn’t permanent. And he drew an arrow to the feeling hopeful.

So, we have three different interpretations leading to different emotional reactions.

You often get immediate relief when you look at your thoughts on paper. You can test your thoughts to see if they’re dysfunctional by asking yourself:

Why am I thinking these things?

What is the evidence supporting this idea? What is the evidence against this idea?

Is there an alternative explanation or viewpoint? What is the effect of my believing this thought?

What can I do to change my mind? What would I tell a friend if he or she were in the same situation? What is the most realistic outcome or explanation?

This type of Socratic questioning can build emotional resilience to fight off certain types of depression. It’s basically learning how to rewire your brain.

It’s too bad that we’re not taught emotional resilience as a way to fight depression when we’re children. If we were, we could have spared ourselves a lot of grief.