As students of psychology, both of us have studied different types of psychotherapies, and, like anything else, we found that some therapies are more effective than others. We say this both in terms of empirical research and personal experience. One method of psychotherapy we found particularly helpful in terms of real life application is cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly referred to as CBT.
The basic premise of CBT is that your thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to behavior. Let’s break that down a little further: you have a mentation (a thought about something), which leads you to feel a certain emotion, which leads you to act in a certain way. It looks like this: Thought —> Feeling —> Behavior. Finally, how you act results in a consequence (either good, bad, or neutral). It all begins with a simple thought.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “But a thought doesn’t make me feel a certain way!” Try this little experiment: Make yourself happy. Really, really happy. Or, make yourself angry. Like, boiling over angry. How did you do that? Did you simply tell yourself, “Be happy!” and you were happy? Did you say to yourself, “Be angry!” and you were angry? Of course not. Chances are, you thought about something that made you happy, or you thought about something that made you angry. It was established with a thought. When faulty thinking is corrected, happiness follows.
Here’s an example: say your boss criticized a project you’re working on. Your first reaction might be to say, “I suck at my job! Why do I always mess everything up? This is just another failure added to my ever-growing list of failures” or something to that effect. Why did you say that to yourself? It wasn’t your boss’ criticism that made you say that, it was how you thought about (interpreted) the situation, and it was likely a cognitive overreaction on your part. You assume that because someone criticized you, you’re automatically incompetent or lazy or whatever negative adjective you’re applying to yourself.
OK, but why? Where’s the evidence to support this negative belief, apart from this one criticism? Have you ever in your life done something well? Has your boss ever given you a compliment? Have your colleagues ever said you were doing a good job? Do you think you’ve ever done anything well? We believe you will find that one of the aforementioned scenarios is likely. Moreover, does criticism from your boss mean that you’re a failure in all aspects of your life? Think about what you’re good at. Take stock of reality and honestly assess yourself. We as humans have a tendency to fall into a habit of absolute thinking. You must develop the ability to separate what is real from what is assumption and curb your unadulterated negativity.
Now, how does this apply to dating? In the same way it relates to the scenario with your boss. When our minds are trained to think in a negative manner, we tend to take every rejection, every minor slight — even innocent situations — and turn them into a big deal. Our reactionary, faulty thinking leads to the destruction of great relationships, or what could be great relationships.
So, we would like you to try this exercise: think of a negative situation that occurred in your life recently. On a piece of paper, write down where and when it happened and whom you were with, if anybody. Next, write down what thought went through your head at the time that it happened. What disturbed you about the situation? Write it down. Next, write down what emotion you felt at the time. How intense was the emotion? Judge it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being neutral or no intensity and 10 being the most intense, unpleasant emotion you have ever felt in your entire life.
Next, write down what you did or didn’t do. What automatic reaction did you have? What action did you take? Write down the result of this action. Did the situation get better? Worse? Stay the same? Finally, go back and look at what thought triggered your emotions and behavior. Assess this thought. Is it grounded in reality? Is it an exaggeration? Is it an example of black-and-white thinking? Is this thought truly accurate? If an objective third party could look at this thought, would they tell me it’s accurate, or faulty?
We believe the skills CBT teaches us are fundamentally important, because when you’re able to change your thoughts to better reflect what is real and true in your life (not just an automatic negative reaction), you inevitably change your life for the better. And, isn’t the purpose of our time on Earth to be happy? Remember, all is well.
Simone is pursuing her master’s degree in psychology and serves on the Commission for the Senior Community. She prides herself on having had more marriage proposals than shoes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In her inner circle, Limor, a screenwriter, is known as the “wing woman” and her cell number has become the hotline for dating advice. You can reach her at email@example.com