In my previous article, I discussed the importance of the thoughts we tell ourselves. Often the “truths” that we repeat to ourselves are not true at all, yet they can have a profound impact on our lives. In this context, Dr. Daniel Amen coined the term ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts. In this article, I outline his list of nine ANTs that we may sometimes struggle with thinking.
ANT #1: All or Nothing Thinking
This is thinking in which there is no middle ground and everything is either good or bad. In such cases, people are unwilling to challenge their thinking by looking for middle ground. “There is nothing to do.” “If I get an A on this test, I am a good student. If I don’t get an A, I am dumb and stupid – a worthless student.”
ANT #2: Always Thinking
Whenever you think in words such as “always,” “never,” “no one,” “everyone,” “every time,” and “everything,” those are examples of “always” thinking. “My wife is always yelling at me.” “You never listen to me.” This kind of ANT is extremely common and it takes practice to look out for it in your language and in the nuts and bolts of Negative Political Ads.
ANT #3: Focusing on the Negative (RED ANT)
This involves going over and over negative thoughts in your mind – whether these are about yourself or a situation – and being unable to think of anything positive. Lots of folks with learning problems of some kind get stuck into this kind of thinking. This Red Ant usually needs someone else to intervene into the thinking and assist the person by making a positive list or creating a positive experience, which the person concerned can then read over and over again until a belief system is built.
ANT #4: Fortune Telling (RED ANT)
This is where one predicts the worst possible outcome of an experience or situation, which is then seen as impossible to overcome. “If I must get up in front of class and read with my stutter, all the kids will laugh at me and think I am stupid.” When you predict that bad things will happen, the mind often takes you there and makes it happen. This Red Ant also needs an intervention because it is based on deeper fears. I heard of one speech therapist who taught a kid with reading problems to get a rap rhythm going in his head and read to that rhythm – she was the most popular reader in her classroom after her performance. One needs some strategies in order to get the mind to predict a positive outcome and to make that happen.
ANT #5: Mind Reading (RED ANT)
In such cases, people are convinced that they know what the other person is thinking and what they might do about what they are thinking. “Everyone at the party thought my Halloween Costume was stupid and dumb. They are never going to invite me to the party again.” In situations like this, one needs to open the person’s thinking, tell someone else what they are mind reading in others, and double check. The chances are that no one was thinking what you were thinking at all. One must speak out loud in order to clarify this thinking and find out if it is true in order to move on to the positive. One needs to work on communication skills, but this often feels like taking too big a risk.
ANT #6: Thinking with your Feelings
“This occurs when you believe your negative feelings without ever questioning them.” Feelings are vitally important to each of us, and recognizing their message and using that message to gain self-knowledge is crucial. But feelings are very complex. They need more exploration and are quite often telling us about situations that occurred in the past that have not been completely worked through. Such feelings can include: “I feel stupid.” “I feel like you don’t love me.” “I feel guilty so I must be doing something wrong.”
ANT #7: Guilt Beatings
Guilt is a useful feeling if you use it like a foghorn in order to keep yourself off the sandbar or a rocky shoreline – it is a navigator emotion. But when guilt becomes your primary feeling, it is not useful or helpful. One needs to explore what is behind the feeling of guilt rather than get stuck at the guilty feelings. When you hear the words “should,” “must,” “ought to,” or “have to,” you can recognize that you are at a point of guilt and that you need to move forward. Rephrasing what is in the negative guilt mode into a positive is a helpful and quick remedy. “It’s in my own best interest to do my homework and make it the best work I can do.”
ANT #8: Labeling
When you label someone else or yourself with a negative label, it says that you is unable to deal with this person or situation in a reasonable way. You then begin to expect the worst of yourself or of the other person or situation. Your mind races in order to make it come true. “Jerk,” “idiot,” or “spoiled brat,” are all just labels that make the person or situation into a more negative hole with no ladders out of it.
ANT #9: Blame (The Most Poisonous RED ANT)
“Whenever you blame someone else for the problems in your life, you become powerless to change anything. Many kids play the Blame Game, but it rarely helps them. Stay away from blaming thought and take personal responsibility for your life.”
Christian Counseling to Change Your Thought Patterns
As a Christian counselor, I have seen the destructive power of ANTs in people’s lives. However, it is possible to change our thought patterns. A trained Christian counselor can help you to look at which thoughts you allow to define yourself and suggest strategies for coming to a truer understanding of yourself.
“Teen Angst,” courtesy of Nathan Csonka, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Issues,” courtesy of Giuseppe Milo, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0), www.pixael.com; “Thinking,” courtesy of Creative Ignition, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)