Automatic Thoughts and 7 Basic Examples

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Automatic thoughts are mental functions that occur without conscious judgment, which deeply affect our actions and emotions. The root of our automatic thoughts comes from our more stable beliefs and schemes.

In cases where we experience emotional distress, our mental functioning becomes excessive, and we are more likely to make ineligible inferences. In such cases, these methods or forms of assessment used by our minds do not help us. The things that go through our minds when we have problems, which we call automatic thought, are also a product of the thinking process that is not suitable for this kind of situation.

What are automatic thoughts?

You can think of automatic thoughts as the things that pop into your head that you keep thinking about

Research shows that these thoughts are powerful enough to drastically affect your feelings. Let’s say you’re feeling down, and now there is a video on Facebook with an adorable puppy fussing in its sleep– if you were to follow this unconscious “pattern” of thinking, the positive video would bring your mood back up. This is because automatic thoughts carry emotional weight– even if they aren’t totally accurate! If it’s negative, chances are the situation will rate much higher for our emotions than it does for our logic.

automatic thoughts and 7 basic examples 1

Automated thoughts are defined and exemplified below. Check out the thoughts that you have when you are in trouble or what these thought features of what you say to yourself may be the product of which. Remember that there can be more than one automatic thought in one thought.

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Worksheet / Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire (PDF)

Thought Record

Automatic Thought Record : cbtiofsocal

Thought Record Sheet

1) Arbitrary inference: The fact that the person’s life draws a completely irrelevant or vice versa conclusion, without any evidence to support that result or, on the contrary, evidence. What is called “bald relevance” in slang? For example, interpreting the positive and supportive words of our friend as a sign of pity instead of interest (“he is interested in me because it hurts”; “he speaks not because he is interested in me, but because he is doing his job”), or he is not taken seriously (“he did not put me in his place”).

2) Selective abstraction (mental filtering): By ignoring the generality of a certain environment or context, ignoring the more obvious aspects of the situation, and defining the whole event with this detail. For example, a person feels constantly bad because of a speech that was made by a friend but the speech is on an irrelevant topic.

negative automatic thoughts examples
negative automatic thoughts examples

3) Thinking all or nothing (black and white or double thinking): Something must be either complete or absent, the points between these two ends are not visible. For example, think of someone who made a little mistake in his job and says “If I’m not perfect, I’m unsuccessful”, or two friends with a very good relationship but one of them delaying a meeting and that makes the other one think “If he delays the meeting, he doesn’t like me”.

4) Guessing the future (divination): A person who can’t comprehend the subject may think ”I’ll never learn it” ”I’m so bad at it.” ”I’ll never improve”. 

5) Emotional inference: Despite the opposite evidence, believing that something is true just because it is felt like it(actually believed) by ignoring or neglecting the opposite evidence. “There are things I do but I feel that I’m a failed person”ting them. “There are things I do but I feel that I’m a failed person”

6) Labeling: The person attaches general labels to himself or others like “I am stupid” if he/she makes a mistake. The fact that someone who has a bad score on the exam qualifies him as “unsuccessful” is to think “he is ungrateful” for a friend who criticizes one of his behaviors.

7) Don’t underestimate or enlarge: Don’t see something too big or too small. In this error of thought, while belittling and undervaluing the work done by a person, he/she exaggerates his mistakes or the behaviors he/she deems wrong. “I got 70 from this script, a very bad grade (enlargement)”, “Anyone can get 70, this is not a success” “I finished school just by chance.” (disdain).

automatic thinking
automatic thoughts and thinking Source

8) Mind reading: Do not believe that we read the other person’s thoughts. ”He did not like me because he did not come”, “he did not call me because he thinks I am not important”, “he thinks I am a sucker” and so on.

9) Excessive generalization: The person draws conclusions covering all situations depending on one or more events. For example, if someone left them they tend to think everyone is going to leave them as well.

10) Personalization: To see everything about ourselves. The person sees an event that is not related to him/her or that is of little relevance to him/her. The fact that a mother who scored the child badly came to the conclusion that “I am a bad mother, this has happened to her because of me”, or think that “someone did not come because of me” when someone was not present at the meeting.

11) should-have statements: The person has tough ideas about how he or others should behave and exaggerates the bad consequences if they do not happen. “I should have made no mistakes”, “he should have kept his promise.”

thought record
thought record Soure

Automatic Thoughts Examples

Albert rented a house a month ago. A month later, he notices that the plumbing at home is old and broken.

The automatic thoughts of Albert are as follows:

  • Plumbing is broken and old. He won’t believe me when I say this to the host.
  • The host will not find an excuse and pay the deposit. Or the host will blame me.
  • I’ll be guilty.
  • I’ll have to argue with him.
  • I can’t defend myself.
  • If I find a lawyer, it will cost me a lot.
  • I can’t do anything.

In psychotherapy, we will talk more about non-functional negative automatic thoughts. Therefore, the term of automatic thought is often used instead of a negative automatic thought term.

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Aaron Beck

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About Author

I am studying in Florida about Dialectic Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I'm doing research on Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET), Cognitive psychology, Metacognitive Therapy.

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