There are four categories of ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts): Worry, Critic, Victim, and Perfectionist. As humans, we’re all open to an infestation of one, some, or all of the ANT types; however, I find that people tend to have “favorites.”
Worry is your ANT of choice if your thoughts go towards catastrophe, pessimism, “knowing” what other people are thinking, “knowing” the future, or dismissing the positive.
Catastrophizing is the ultimate of making a mountain out of a mole hill. No matter what, everything is going to go so wrong that the world might as well end.
- I can’t remember anything. I’m going to flunk this test, and everyone will think I’m stupid.
- Oh no! I just dribbled Coke down the front of my shirt! Now everyone is going to start teasing me and my mom is going to be SO MAD.
- I’ll be so nervous that I won’t be able to function and my presentation will be a total failure. Then the client won’t hire us, the company will collapse, and I’ll have to live out of my car.
- The fire drill isn’t really a test, terrorists are attacking us. We’re all going to die.
While there is a small possibility these disasters could occur, the projected outcomes are not the likely result.
In terms of the Worry ANT, pessimism takes “the world is out to get me” thinking to the extreme.
- If something can go wrong, it will go wrong for me.
Really? Have you poked your eye out with your toothbrush? If not, then not everything that can go wrong happens to you.
For the average person on the street, mind reading and fortune telling are best left to the carnival shows.
- That group across the room didn’t acknowledge me, they think I’m ugly.
- If I don’t do this exactly right, no one will like me.
Isn’t it more likely that the group across the room didn’t see you? And, since no one is perfect, perfection is not a qualification for friendship.
Filtering, or disqualifying anything positive in favor of possible negatives can be the most detrimental aspect of the Worry ANT.
- I was lucky to do well on that project; I’m not really competent.
- The teacher must have felt sorry for me, I did not deserve an A on that test.
Being able to identify your ANT – and that you are in the midst of an infection – is not the solution; however, it is a great start!
Because ANTs are Automatic and bypass our logical brain, the best way to attack them is head on. Seriously question your thoughts and check your facts. Bring logic back into the situation.
- What are the facts (what did people actually do and say)?
- Are there other ways to explain what happened or what might have happened?
- What is the truth of your thoughts?
- How likely is your worry to actually occur?
- Is there something you can actually do about your concern? (When it comes the things that have already happened, the answer is no. Same is true for other people’s thoughts.)
The most important thing you can do is be patient. If you are the one under ANT attack, being patient with yourself goes a long way. Right now, all you have to do is be you.
If your child is under attack, pressuring them to “get over it” only makes things worse. Appreciate your child’s limitations (and your own) and set reasonable expectations.