CBT and your autonomic thoughts, core beliefs, and behaviors.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote, “People are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take
of them (Epictetus, 125, as cited in Ellis & Harper, 1961).” This is supported by basic science and
Clinical outcomes research (Lorenzo-Luaces, German, & DeRubeis, 2015).

You will have situation-specific thoughts or automatic thoughts that arise spontaneously (i.e., automatically), are often brief and fleeting, and take the form of a thought or image. The automaticity of these thoughts can lead you to hold these thoughts as truths without reflection or evaluation. Automatic thoughts stem from an underlying belief system and influence how you feel and what you do (i.e., behave). Tracking these autonomic thoughts can provide great insight into your underlying beliefs. Once identified, testing them out and working in therapy sessions with exploring and redefining will help you in your mental health journey.

Behaviors are another important component to track. In keeping with the construct of a self-fulfilling prophecy (Rosenthal & Jacobson), behaviors associated with core beliefs can lead to outcomes that reinforce the beliefs.

Let’s take the example of a woman who was made to take on the role of a parent at a young age. This may have led her to believe that it is her responsibility to take care of others while her own needs are not as important. As time passes, she may attract people who rely too much on her. This behavior would result in her having many people in her life who need her help, but not many who can reciprocate her kindness. This pattern of behavior and relationships would only serve to reinforce her beliefs about herself, other people, and the world.

Or another example might be a man who believes that he is socially inept. This belief leads to thoughts of, ‘they think I am being awkward, they don’t want me around, they are going to laugh at me or talk behind my back’. Having such thoughts leads to certain behavioral consequences, like pulling away from social opportunities or conversations, not engaging with others, and staying closed off both verbally, emotionally, and physically, which will then have another consequence of others pulling away from him. Others not approaching him. This will then reaffirm the original belief of not being good enough socially, of being socially inept. Thus reinforcing that original belief. A vicious cycle that keeps going.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy addresses these beliefs, thoughts and behaviors so that the cycle can be seen and adjusted.