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  • Writer's pictureKatie Porter

Understanding Your Negative Cognitions – Tapping Into The Root System of Your Identity

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

Hello Readers,

Golly it’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog! It feels good to be back 🙂

Today I wanted to talk about “going deeper” in therapy, and how important it is not only as clinicians helping clients, but just for overall knowledge, and a reminder for ourselves to take a look at the bigger picture.

Understanding Your Negative Cognitions – Tapping Into The Root System of Your Identity

When someone comes to see me for help in working towards recovery from an eating

disorder or from a traumatic event, it is easy to get caught up in how the person is feeling and behaving, and try to modify those things in an attempt to help them feel better. While it is important of course, to attend to these issues, those are really just the superficial layer of what is really going on with that individual.

That is to say, yes we will work on that individual’s isolation habits, anxiety, impulses with food, nightmares, etc. But its only surface level. This article is just a reminder to anyone and everyone – whether a mental health professional or not, to dive deeper. I call it, “Tapping Into Your Root System”. It means to look at the deeper layers that lie beneath behaviors and emotions. And to even dive deeper than purely understanding the trigger or the specific cause at hand. I’m talking about one’s Cognition System.

What Are Cognitions?

Cognition simply means “knowledge”, or “the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment”. Every one of us has a build-up of beliefs about ourselves. They are developed through time from our experiences, and more importantly how we processed those experiences.

I think it is fair to say that all of us have a combination of positive cognitions and negative cognitions. For example, some of us may be able to say, “I’m a good person”, or “I deserve to be happy”. We can also believe and say things about ourselves that are negative, such as “I’m a failure”, “I should have done better”.

We live our everyday lives roaming the world with these cognitions woven into our identities. It is important to get to know ourselves on this deeper “root” layer, for it explains a lot about our perceptions of ourselves and our abilities, how we view the rest of the world, and says a lot about our reactions to events and our ability to be in healthy relationships.

Here is an example of a graph I use with clients to help them better identify their layers and root system. Our Negative Cognition layer percolates up through the rest of the layers and affects them all in various ways. What we consider to be a trigger usually makes us feel a certain way (emotions), which leads us to how we cope (behaviors).

Do you see how they are all connected? If all we are doing is teaching people skills on how to not bite their nails when they are feeling stressed, they will never truly stop being stressed! They will just find other ways of coping with being stressed. To truly help, we must find out what they are stressed about. And with enough exploration, it will boil down to certain negative cognitions.

What Next?

After some self-discovery of what one’s root system looks like, then we have an advantage of beginning to work through some of those origins.

Key Questions To Ask Yourself:

1. How did those develop?

2. About what age was I?

3. Did someone say these things directly to me or about me?

4. Did someone make me feel these things without saying the words?

5. Has their voice now become my own voice?

6. Do I now say these things and believe these things about myself?

7. How do these cognitions interfere with my life?

From there, we can really get to work. This is where the true magic happens. Once we allow ourselves to go deeper, then we can begin to work through those negative cognitions, process them in healthy ways, as well as strengthen any and all positive cognitions you may have or wish to have.

This again has the power to percolate upwards, affecting how you respond to events and circumstances around you, to make a positive difference in your emotions and emotion regulation, and even make a significant difference in your behaviors- you know, the things you “think” are bringing you to therapy.

Well there it is. I encourage all of you reading this to go deeper, to focus on something much greater than just your emotions and behaviors.

It truly will be worth it in the end Happy exploring!

Also, below is a more extensive example of positive and negative cognitions you may have experienced.


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