I recently came across this article and thought it a very nice summary of how our automatic thoughts (beliefs) trigger our responses. – Julie Myers, PsyD
The Importance of Meanings in Our Reactions
Aaron T. Beck, M.D.
Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy
People often make statements such as “You upset me,” “She makes me so angry,” or “The news is depressing.” They do not realize that the specific event is not directly responsible for their feelings. Rather, the meaning they attach to the experience accounts for feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety. Our emotional response to an event is generally so rapid that it seems as though there is an inexorable bond between the stimulus situation and the feeling. For many years this notion was dominant in the field of psychiatry and psychology. Then it was discovered that there was a link between an event and the emotional response. The missing link was termed an “automatic thought.” This occurs rapidly and automatically in response to the event and incorporates the actual meaning of the event.
For example, a wife angrily reprimanded her husband “You upset me” after he forgot to run an errand. On reflection, she recognized her automatic thought was “He always lets me down.” The automatic thought and the meaning embodied in it were exaggerations, but they led to anger and recriminations. By identifying excessive, inappropriate, or exaggerated meanings, people can reduce the intensity of their reactions. The meanings we attach to our experiences may enrich our lives on the one hand, but on the other hand negative meanings can lead to excessive frustration, conflict, and misery.
Once we reflect on our automatic thoughts we often realize that the meanings are exaggerated, illogical, or without basis. We can question their validity, examine the evidence, consider alternative explanations, and arrive at more realistic meanings.
For more information see A. T. Beck, “Prisoners of hate: The cognitive basis of anger, hostility and violence.