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Thoughts as Behaviors: Challenging Our Belief Systems

Thoughts as Behaviors: Challenging Our Belief Systems

What are our thoughts? Are they random impulses presenting themselves in our minds like a movie or a dialogue? Are thoughts in our control and representative of our inner selves? Are they deeply significant or are thoughts inconsequential? The answer is all of the above! Thoughts can be strange or silly, prompting us to shrug them off as unimportant.

Thoughts can be insightful and deep, like an epiphany or a realization (or what is known as an “Ah-ha!” moment). They can be within our power and control, as well as random and chaotic. Some of our thoughts constitute our core belief systems.

When we are in recovery from addictions, we might find that our core belief systems do not serve us well. We may have long-held thoughts that are distorted or overblown. Some of our core beliefs may be misguided or not true to our personal philosophy.

While some thoughts are random and out of our control, others, like beliefs, can be viewed as behaviors. Behaviors can be shaped, changed, ceased, or modified. Two effective therapies for challenging our steadfast beliefs are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

Both CBT and DBT are considered evidence-based practices, meaning that they have been proven to be effective and helpful.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Challenge Maladaptive Thinking

“Cognitive” refers to our conscious brain activities, generally referring to our thoughts. Any thought within our awareness, whether manifested by us or at random, can be considered a cognitive process. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help those of us with distorted thinking or maladaptive thought patterns.

For some of us in recovery, we may have been told things that are not necessarily true or may not realize that we have damaging thought patterns. These thought patterns can distort our self-image, disrupt our development of confidence, and affect our overall mental wellness.

In CBT, the person meets with a therapist to begin the process of challenging and changing these distorted beliefs and thought patterns. The therapist will help the person identify and recognize their distorted or unhelpful beliefs. Once these beliefs are realized, the person can begin to test how these beliefs hold up in reality.

For example, a person may think “I will never be happy.” This distorted view of themselves affects much of their self-esteem and their motivations to change–why challenge themselves if they will never be happy? The therapist may ask them to begin noting times of the day when they do feel happy to challenge this belief.

The person will then begin to notice when they do feel happy and content, then they can understand how to change their environments, activities, or behaviors to feel happy more often. Once they understand that their beliefs are not reality, they can begin to dismantle these long-held thought patterns.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Learning to Tolerate Distress

Another practice of challenging distorted thinking is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). “Dialectal” refers to opposition between two opposing forces; in DBT, this is referring to the opposition of reality and our emotional responses to reality. DBT is generally used for people with difficulty managing their emotional regulations.

They may have an extreme overreaction to changes or unanticipated events due to distorted patterns of thoughts that make them feel anxious or fearful. DBT helps people with “black-and-white” thinking, which leaves them feeling that things are either great or terrible with little to nothing in between.

People who can be best helped with DBT may have a difficult time reacting appropriately to stressors. For example, they may have the same emotional reaction to accidentally dropping a cup of coffee as they do to losing a loved one. During DBT, they can learn to respond more appropriately to the varying degrees of stress in life.

A therapist in DBT will guide the person to handle distress. Someone may have never learned healthy ways of handling stressors in life and have extreme reactions to the slightest changes. DBT focuses on distress tolerance and challenges thought patterns by exposing the person gradually to distress within a safe environment.

In DBT, a person will begin to realize that distress can be tolerated in healthy ways and they learn to respond more appropriately to stress. Similar in approach to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), in DBT a person will also have tasks outside of therapy to test the reality of their distorted thought patterns.

One of the key differences between CBT and DBT, however, is the factor of actively learning to tolerate distress. When beginning recovery, we may begin to notice our thought patterns and beliefs with more awareness than when we were in the throes of addictions.

Once we become more aware of distorted ways of thinking and reacting, we can find therapies to help us challenge our thoughts and our reactions.

Distorted thought patterns and belief systems can keep us stuck. Our thoughts and beliefs can negatively impact our self-esteem and self-confidence. We may have self-defeating thoughts of perfectionism, catastrophizing, or worthlessness. We may have an extreme overreaction to any stress in life due to distorted thoughts or black-and-white thinking. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy can help us think more clearly and respond more appropriately to the world around us. Sometimes, the root causes of our addictive behaviors are due to unhealthy thoughts about ourselves or life in general. At Enlightened Solutions, we believe in challenging belief systems that no longer serve to better ourselves. Call us today at (833) 801-5483 to discuss some of our therapeutic approaches to cognitive distortions and unhealthy thoughts.