Socratic Questioning

Socratic Questioning

In times when uncertainty is high, it is quite common for our brains to hop onto Starship Anxiety and go at warp speed into the not so unfamiliar domain of the nebula of overthinking, and bump into the catastrophizing belt. When this happens it could help to channel our inner vulcan to face the tide of chaos and vulnerability and loss of control we are all feeling.

While sometimes it helps to do things in the moment that might help us in breaking this loop of thoughts, we might still find ourselves coming back to the thought loop again and again. In such instances, trying to understand the root of these thoughts might help.

One of the ways in which we can do this is by employing a technique of questioning taught to us by the father of philosophy, Socrates. He devised a disciplined practice of thoughtful questioning that enables one to examine ideas logically and to determine their validity.

This practice of thoughtful questioning finds its space as an integral part of the cognitive behavioral approach and is widely used to help clients find clarity, understand and uncover their seemingly irrational thoughts.

How do we use this method of questioning to aid us in our daily lives to analyse various repetitive, self defeating thoughts?

First you would have to distinguish between your thoughts and feelings:

– What is a feeling?
– What is a thought?

Put simply, a feeling is body sensation. It’s something we can observe in ourselves. We might often use it incorrectly when we use expressions like “I feel that I should…” or “I feel that they are…”

We express our feelings when we complete this sentence meaningfully “ I feel……” It might help if you do this with a sense of curiosity rather than an aim of critiquing.

Anything else that comes to mind is a thought.

Now that you have the thought, let’s get socratic!
Take for example, the thought “ I am so clumsy, I can’t do anything right!”

Clarify the thought:
What do I mean by that?
Could I explain myself further?
What contributes to this thought

When I think about clarifying this thought I may want to say that my recent clumsy behavior reminds me of other times I have been clumsy and I currently feel overwhelmed and angry with myself about it.

Gather evidence:
Ask yourself what facts support your thought?
Also what facts do you have against your thought?
Is your source of information reliable?

Here I would accumulate evidence of broken cups, damaged phones, delayed appointments and various other setbacks that my clumsiness may have brought. However, when I look into evidence against the thought, I do realise this is not an everyday phenomenon.

Question the source:
Have you thought this or has it been said to you at some point in your life, and if so what is the reliability of the source?

Question your assumptions:
What are the assumptions that you are making?
Could there be another way of viewing the same situation, what if your friend had done this would you see it differently?

Well, here it seems I am assuming that because I am clumsy I cannot do anything right . While I may exhibit clumsiness, but saying that it is a sign of me not being able to do anything right is me assuming that. I am also assuming in a way that I may be more clumsy than others.

Alternating viewpoints:
Could there be another way of viewing this situation? Do you know of anyone who has exhibited the similar behavior and has viewed it differently?

Well, I have seen people who really own their clumsiness and laugh away a stray incident, and don’t get bogged down by it. Is that the approach I want to take?

We are very likely to believe whatever we think without questioning it. This is not to say our feelings are not valid, they certainly are, but our thoughts may not always be. Most of the time our thoughts guide our feelings. We are troubled when repetitive or inaccurate thoughts guide our feelings, questioning them can take this power away from them.

Although this is a guide to how we can use this tool for yourself, sometimes we might need help, another perspective or just someone to listen as we go through the process and that’s perfectly okay. If you feel like this, reach out and ask for help!

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Zahra Diwan

Zahra has over 4 years of experience working with clients within the therapeutic framework. She works extensively with young adults, and maintains a diary on Things That Help Us which is collation of insights she gains in therapy.

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