One of the most common misconceptions needing clarification in CBT is the belief that challenging one’s thoughts –we call it “Thought Inspection” at Learn To Live—is the same as “Positive Thinking.” The two are very different.
Every day I work with people who have no interest in pretending that the world is perfect, that everything is great. They tell me about past tragedies or fear of adversity. Many of them have already experienced great pain. They say that positive thinking offers them nothing, that pretending it’s going to be great is not helpful. I agree with them. We don’t subscribe to positive thinking at Learn to Live.
Thought Inspection is realistic thinking, not positive thinking. Bad things might happen, some already have. If a person is anxious, the first step is to consider whether our worries are likely to come true. With Social Anxiety Disorder, the thoughts are often about being watched and judged by others, predictions that are often far less likely to come true than we fear. Thought Inspection is not about inventing some new reality but rather about identifying and accepting reality as it exists. People are often too busy to pay attention to our mistakes and imperfections, or they don’t notice them if they do look. When that realization sinks in, people often feel relieved.
Still, I often see the gnawing sense that something more is needed. So we look at another question—if the bad thing did somehow happen, how could I then cope? How could I talk myself through it? These are not easy discussions, but they are often part of Thought Inspection. We don’t like imagining the bad things long enough to consider how we might deal with them. But I have seen brave people do it time and time again and soberly consider how they would cope if they were judged or criticized or fired. We don’t need to be anxious or live in such great fear if we see that we could find a way through even if the bad thing happened.
I find it helps to share stories of those who make it through real adversity and suffering. We find inspiration in those who struggle through successfully. Here’s how one young woman coped with profound emotional pain and humiliation. Very inspiring.
CBT is an approach that helps people cope with and work through the worst of their fears, whether they happen or not.