WRITE YOUR OWN THOUGHT/FEELING/URGE/ACTION CHAIN
Using a recent event that led to an eating disorder behavior, write your own chain of events that led to your use of the behavior.
Thoughts are powerful, but we all give our thoughts too much power without even realizing it. Like the rest of us, you are likely to confuse your thoughts with the truth. Just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true. Becoming aware of your thoughts and learning to question and challenge them will help you behave differently. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on this premise, and is often the first treatment of choice for use with bulimia, and is similarly useful with other eating disorders, as well as many other psychological issues. Learning to become aware of your thought patterns and distorted or negative thinking will help you challenge these thoughts and respond to them in more effective ways.
We always ask our clients, What do, or did, you tell yourself about that? in order to help them formulate their thoughts about a situation. Doing this helps you step back from your thoughts, evaluate them, and determine if they need to be acted on, challenged, or dismissed. For example, if you were upset because you tried on pants that didn’t fit, we would ask, What did you say to yourself about that? When you take time to look at the cascade of thoughts that come up, you begin to see how the thoughts shape what happens next, and you recognize the importance of challenging or letting them go.
SELF-TALK. WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOURSELF IF?
Look at the following situations, and write what you think you might tell yourself if this happened to you.
A sales clerk at a dress shop tells you that you need a bigger size.
I would tell myself:
You eat a cookie even though you are trying not to eat any sweets. I would tell myself:
You binge even though you promised yourself you wouldn’t. I would tell myself:
You feel full.
I would tell myself:
You get a bad grade or perform something poorly. I would tell myself:
Look over your responses to the above assignment. You should be getting the picture now regarding how your thoughts contribute to your unhappiness and the actions you take as a result. With these few examples, you should be able to see how easily you make assumptions, exaggerate, personalize, or think in all-or-nothing terms. These are some of the most common cognitive (thought) distortions and always lead to suffering. It’s important to understand that you do this in an attempt to protect yourself from feeling hurt, disappointment, rejection, failure, or some other pain, but it only works temporarily, if at all, and creates further suffering.
WHAT I SAY TO OTHERS VS. MYSELF
Seeing the discrepancy between how you talk to and think about yourself and how you talk to and think about others can help illuminate your distorted thinking habits. Go back to the previous assignment. Under each question about what you would tell yourself, write what you would tell someone else you cared about. Do not say something you don’t believe that wouldn’t help your friend and it won’t help you. Then, answer the following questions:
Why would you talk to yourself so differently than you would a loved one?
What would happen if you talked to others the way you talk to yourself?
What are you afraid would happen if you talked to yourself the way you talk to others?
Thoughts just pop into our minds. Many thoughts will be healthy and balanced, but in times of stress or emotional upset, your thoughts will often become distorted in predictable ways. It is important to learn which thoughts or cognitive distortions are common to you. Thinking in extremes and using words like always, never, everyone, and nobody are red flags for distorted thoughts. Rarely are these extreme statements true.
In our 8 Keys secrets, we provide a list of common cognitive distortions adapted from Feeling Good by David Burns (1980). A list is provided here with space after each one for you to write a personal example.