Even though we may think we have an accurate and realistic perception of the world, the people around us, and ourselves, we can fall into certain traps in thinking called cognitive distortions which are incorrect and unrealistic ways of thinking about the world. Because thoughts have such a huge sway on our moods and emotions, we need to be mindful of how we think. One such thought pattern is called a mental filter which can lead to anxiety, stress, and panic in our patients.
What is a mental filter? How can it lead to negative emotions?
Mental filters cause you to pick out only negative aspects of any situation and dwell only on these negative aspects, while filtering out all positive aspects. When someone falls into the trap of mental filtering, they cannot see the big picture and can only focus on the negative details. More often than not they are not aware that mental filtering is happening so they conclude that the entire situation is negative.
When someone applies a mental filter and only focus on the negative in their lives, naturally this person will be more susceptible to negative emotions. Dissatisfaction with one’s own life, anxiety about the future, feelings of depression and hopelessness are common when mental filtering becomes a habit.
Examples of mental filtering:
What are some examples of mental filtering at work? Here are a couple examples:
Despite your romantic partner doing nice things for you and treating you kindly, you only notice their shortcomings. You dwell on all the wrong things rather than cherish the good things about the relationship.
Your colleague pointed out a small error in your work but commented that you did an overall good job. However, you can only focus on your colleague’s constructive criticism and feel resentment towards them.
News and the state of the world:
You are scrolling through your social media newsfeed and you stumble across an article about some terrible event. This causes you to become anxious and stressed out, thinking that the world is “going up in flames.” You ignore the positive pieces of news you come across on your feed.
How to put an end to mental filters:
Reframing the way you think about certain situations and your relationships is the key to breaking free from mental filters. Below are some helpful techniques:
Pausing when you find yourself having a negative thought:
Next time you find yourself having a negative thought, take a pause and write it down. Keep a diary of all the negative thoughts that come in your mind. Try to understand what caused you to have these negative thoughts.
Counteract your negative thoughts with evidence to the contrary:
As you record your negative thoughts and mental filters in your journal, try to think of evidence to the contrary. For example, you may write down: “I feel upset because my coworker had criticized my work.” Perhaps you can think about the times that your coworker complimented your work. Maybe think all the times that your coworker helped you so you can have a more balanced perspective.
Rebalance a negative thought with a positive one:
Once you start catching yourself and realizing when negative thoughts enter your head, you could try conquering this negative thought with a positive one. If you find yourself focusing only on the shortcomings of your partner, you could try and think about the positive aspects about your partner. Think about something nice he/she has done for you in recent days. Don’t forget to aknowledge them for doing so.
If you find yourself constantly upset at work at a colleague, try and find the silver lining. Perhaps you could think about and focus on an aspect of your work that you do enjoy. You could try and spend more time with a colleague who you actually enjoy working with. There is always a silver lining in any situation. There may be some other positive aspect you are not fully acknowledging, or perhaps this is an opportunity for positive change.
How mental filters can sabotage our relationship with God:
Negative thoughts and cognitive distortions such as mental filters are not only harmful to ourselves and to our relationships with our loved ones. It is also harmful to our relationship with God.
Negative, self-sabotaging thoughts are the work of the enemy Satan. Satan will use any tool at his disposal to keep you as separate from God as possible and self-sabotaging thoughts are one of them. Mental filters keep you fixated on only the negative aspects of your life. This fixation on the negative keeps you miserable. When you are miserable, it is harder to glorify and give thanks to God.
There is nothing on earth that influences our lives and our emotional state more than our thoughts. Satan will do anything to distort these thoughts and make sure we are miserable for the rest of our lives.
What the Bible says on combatting negative thoughts:
Focus on what is beautiful and positive in your life.
Philippians 4:8 reminds us: ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ If we find our minds descending into sadness and negativity, try and pull ourselves out of the hole by turning our attention to what is excellent and praiseworthy.
If you can’t find something to be grateful for, pray to God.
Sometimes, life gets really, really hard. It may be too difficult for us to focus on what is beautiful when life feels anything but. This is when we need God the most. Jesus said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We become strong because of God’s grace.
We are licensed psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and psychotherapists that believe in integrating the Gospel message into mental health treatment and counseling, as well as reducing the stigma and prevalence of mental health disorders. Contact us now to learn more about treatments, or just to receive a brief consultation about the need for treatment.
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