As an autistic woman I have difficulty in interpreting other’s intentions, and due to lifelong bullying, I have a very low self-esteem.
One can say that my best friend is the imposter syndrome. I aways find myself questioning my abilities, questioning whether I deserve my job, a compliment from a colleague for a job well done.
I have been doing CBT and DBT for quite some time over a year. One of the most powerful thing I have learnt is the power of challenge our thoughts. When I feel confused and about to have an autistic melt-down, I started to remember what a therapist said to me: just THINK.
Let me walk you through the meaning of that. When you have a thought that triggers you sadness or in my case an emotion that I cannot recognise, or even gets you in a spiral, you must stop for a moment and remember the word THINK:
T is for True
The first thing we must do to challenge our thought is asking the question of whether the thought is TRUE? The first thing we must do is to find evidence that that thought is actually a fact or an opinion. For instance, I remember sending an email to a former boss expressing my opinion on the direction of a product. I did not her back from the person for days. In my head the thought that immediately came up unprompted was that “My email was ridiculous and this person must be laughing at me right now“. I had no evidence whatsoever that the person would think my opinion was ridiculous nor had I heard from anyone else anything of that sort. Therefore, I had no evidence that my thought was actually true – ie. a fact. It could be well be the case, but at that moment in time there was no evidence pointing to the fact that my thought was true.
H is for Helpful
The second thing we must do to challenge our thought is asking the question of whether the thought is HELPFUL? Sometimes our minds wanders to places that is quite not helpful for us. In my example of the email I sent to a previous boss, was it helpful that I went on a worrying spiral trying to guess every reaction that person would have? The answer is NOT. Try recognising the triggers that an unhelpful thought brings to you as well. Pay attention to your physical sensations (e.g. knot in the stomach, palpitations). If you have a poor feeling because of a thought, you can use mindfullness to rescue you. A very good mindfullness exercise is to take deep breaths counting down from 10 to 1 while you inhale for 1 second and exhale for 2 seconds.
I is for Important
The third aspect in challenging thoughts is to ask ourselves whether what we are thinking is IMPORTANT. When we become obsessed with non-important thoughts we cannot concentrate nor focus on the important things around us. Most importantly, we stop living in the present. Again, the deep breathing exercise is quite helpful to centre oneself. Your mind will wonder but you can bring your mind back to the present. In the case of my email story, would I loose my job if my idea was not ingenious? The answer is NO, hence the thought is not important.
N is for Necessary
The fourth aspect in challenging thoughts is to ask ourselves whether what we are thinking is NECESSARY. While we must not ever censor ourselves in what we think, there are many times when what we think is not necessary or helpful for the situation at hand. Maybe the thought is necessary but not for the given time. I often caught myself thinking and anticipating future events that are completely not necessary especially because most of the time my unnecessary thoughts are hurtful. If your thought at the present moment cannot solve the situation at that right moment, or inspire and uplift you, then that thought is indeed not necessary to have in your mind. It is easily said than done, but try to see this as a muscle that you must flex to build it up. Overtime you will get better in handling your thoughts at the time it is necessary.
K is for Kind
The final aspect in challenging thoughts is to ask ourselves whether what we are thinking is KIND. I tend to be quite harsh with myself and truly unkind to me, and that is something I am working on at the moment. We must consider: Are we showing empathy to ourselves? Empathy is very different from Sympathy. When someone sympathise with you the person will most often say: “At least you have X”, “At least you are not X”. That is not kind. Empathy demonstrates kindness. When we are empathetic with ourselves we take into consideration our feelings, we stay with ourselves, and we feel compassion. Sometimes being kind to us means taking a day off work, or having that nice cup of coffee and be in silence. Always check: Is this thought kind to me? Does what I am thinking express compassion towards myself? If the answer is no, then the thought is unkind and does not deserve a place in your mind.
The THINK concept applied to challenge our thoughts can be useful not only in our day to day interaction with ourselves but for any situation where words are employed, being in the virtual or real space.