Caring About How We Think in Abusive Relationships

"Thinking" Courtesy of Wikipedia

“Thinking” Courtesy of Wikipedia

Researchers of cognition estimate that people experience upwards to 60,000 automatic thoughts a day, and for most of us 80% of our contemplations are negative. These negative  thoughts are repetitive ideas that we continuously tell ourselves throughout our lives. They are primarily formed from experiences with feelings and actions in our family environment and intimate relationships. They are not facts and are often not accurate reflections of reality. Especially when our family communication patterns are destructive and our intimate relationships are abusive. Our inner dialogue has a strong effect on  emotional states, actions, and how we cope with life.

Imagine you have a problem with an emotionally abusive partner that you are trying to cope with. You could think, “This is not about me, I can manage, even though it is difficult,” or, you could think, “This is hopeless, there is nothing I can do right, I’m completely overwhelmed and it’s impossible to make a change.” How might you feel, think, or act differently in these situations? If you feel anger or resentment, the challenge is to acknowledge it, learn from it, and then release any self-destructive thoughts.

Thoughts can affect your reactions to your partner’s emotional abuse and your ability to cope with it too. In particular, thinking his or her abusive behavior is about you. Participating in the emotional cruelty with your partner is likely to make you feel more helpless to change and to suffer more. In contrast, thinking that makes you feel competent to cope with the relationship can make you feel better about yourself and allow you to change the circumstances. When you feel misery, force yourself to think grateful thoughts. When you feel blamed, reassure yourself that who you are is okay.

Thoughts often seem to be out of our control. Even so, the truth is that we can learn to monitor our thinking, notice thoughts that are more or less helpful, and make choices about how to counter or change those thoughts. By doing these things, we reduce thoughts that contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and increase thoughts that contribute to feelings of competence, confidence, and determination. These thoughts can then help you a) act more effectively with your partner and b) stop creating your own emotional pain c) help you leave your relationship. This also helps you make emotionally fulfilling choices like spending time with loved ones, accomplishing your work or educational goals, or reducing the negative effects of your abusive partner.

The three steps to changing your thinking are to:

1. Notice your thoughts (if you are feeling bad, you’re thinking negative thoughts).
2. Ask yourself, “Is the thought helpful or harmful. Is it accurate?”
3. Change your thought, if harmful or inaccurate; counter it with a positive coping thought and behavior.

Thoughts can be empowering thoughts or self-defeating thoughts. They can be thoughts that reinforce you to believe in your value or thoughts that punish you for being or making a mistake. Looking at your own relationship experiences, which types of thoughts are most likely to be helpful? Where does your mind hang out? Make a list of these inner dialogues to help you notice the thoughts that make you feel bad. This action will help you to stop attending to the seemingly involuntary thought processes and the continuous negative monologues.

Questions to ask for empowering coping thoughts in an emotionally abusive relationship are:

1. Am I blaming myself for something over which I do not have control?
2. Are there any strengths or positives in me or the situation that I am ignoring?
3. Have I had any experiences that show that this thought is true all the time?
4. If a friend had this thought, what would I tell him or her?
5. Have I been in this type of situation with my partners before? What happened? Is   there anything different between this situation and previous ones?
6. What have I learned from prior experiences about the signs of an abusive relationship that could help me now?

These actions will help you in emotionally destructive relationships and can help you get through times of stress in healthy relationships. Listen to that voice in your head and do what you need to do to take care of your thoughts.

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Thank you for reading this article. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to the importance of non-violence and self-compassion by teaching from my experience. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to put an end to the self-judgment and critical thoughts. And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-acceptance and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.

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