Part 2: ANTS Are Not What You Think! Polarized Thinking by Sharon Scott, LPC LMFT
By Sharon Scott, LPC, LMFT
In last month’s column we defined ANTS as Automatic Negative Thoughts. ANTS are our internal dialog gone haywire! It’s when we believe our self-talk in a situation that is actually benign, however, we make a negative interpretation from it. Thoughts cause feelings. An automatic negative thought would be if you think your friend is gossiping about you when you saw her whispering to someone sitting next to her, yet you are on wonderful terms with her. You are assuming the worst for no logical reason. So if you change the thought (‘I wonder what my friend is whispering about?) to no negative assumptions then you will feel better. ANTS can lead to worry, anxiety and depression and can be managed.
There are eight common ANTS. We will discuss ‘polarized thinking’ first. According to McKay, Davis and Fanning in Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods & Your Life
polarized thinking is black-and-white thinking with no shades of gray allowed. It’s all or none, either/or, good or bad, perfect or failure thinking.
I was recently working with a mother who became extremely upset when her high school age son made less than a 95 in ANY subject. She wanted me to help her son! Unfortunately, this is not that uncommon. To her, he was becoming a lazy, do-nothing if he didn’t spend every moment studying. She wanted him in the best of schools so that he could be a success in life.
If you’ve been reading my columns for awhile, I’m sure that you can guess that I ended up working with the mother on her expectations that involved polarized thinking. She couldn’t see the middle ground between perfection and failing. Plus she was chronically lecturing and criticizing him. She was denying her son a life filled with hobbies, friends, sports, music and other important aspects of a well-rounded life.
Do you ever see polarized thinking in you or your children? Examples include one mistake means failing and so you quit trying to learn something new ‘ or you get tired but think you are weak’ or one bad grade/evaluation means you’re stupid. It’s important to stop black-and-white judgments. Very few things are truly black or white.
And, if you must make some kind of rating, then think in terms of percentages: ‘Ten percent of the time I say goofy things; the rest of the time I do okay,’ ‘Thirty percent of the time she acts selfish, yet the other 70% of the time she is so thoughtful,’ ‘Twenty percent of the time my child goofs off and doesn’t apply himself at school, but, wow, the other 80% of the time he works diligently.’ This puts things in proper perspective and manages one’s thoughts toward a positive, real and logical perspective.
More in the ANTS series:
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The guide for parents/educators on how to peer-proof children and teens is Peer Pressure Reversal: An Adult Guide to Developing a Responsible Child, 2nd Ed.
Her popular book for teens, How to Say No and Keep Your Friends, 2nd Ed., empowers kids to stand out,not just fit in!
A follow-up book for teens, When to Say Yes! And Make More Friends, shows adolescents how to select and meet quality friends and, in general, feel good for doing and being good.
Sharon also has a charming series of five books for elementary-age children each teaching an important living skill and "co-authored" with her savvy cocker spaniel Nicholas who makes the learning fun.Their book on managing elementary-age peer pressure is titled Too Smart for Trouble.
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