boundaries, choices, communication, delegation, success, abuse, negative mind chatter, stress, love

DISTORTED THINKING

How distorted thinking affects your life

1. FILTERING: 

You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. You only see and hear certain things and totally block out other things. You pay attention only to certain things and they're usually negative. You have a hard time seeing the whole truth in certain areas. You only hear the negative. 


Counteracting Filtering:

Try to look for positive things to balance out the negative. If you feel rejected all the time, write down when you feel rejected and all the facts that pertain to the situation. Write down all the people who do not reject you. If you see yourself as a failure, think about your successes. Tell yourself, "I can learn from my mistakes." If there's something I need to change, I can work on it." I've learned from past situations and am not making the same mistakes again." Many times we see ourselves as we used to be. 


2. POLARIZED THINKING: 

Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you're a failure. There's no middle ground. Look for either/or thinking. It's either black or white, right or wrong, successful or a failure, calm or hysterical, You may find the thought comes to you with only one half of the statement. The other is implied and you still act on it. It might say, "You're too intense." The implication is that you don't have a sense of humor and others won't relate to you or want you around. You're no fun. 


Counteracting Polarized thinking:

Try not to judge yourself harshly. When you see yourself looking at things as black and white, ask yourself if these are the true facts. Consider attacking polarized thinking with percentages. The evening wasn't a total failure, it was maybe a 65. Dinner went ok, the movie could have been better, but I didn't pick it. Nothing is totally success or failure, perfect or a catastrophe. If you're making up your own rules and have trouble following them, you can always make up different rules. Tell yourself to stop thinking in either/or categories. Remind yourself of how great you really are. 


3. OVERGENERALIZATION: 

You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again. Instead of looking at all the facts, you assume something that may or may not be true. For example, your neighbor doesn't say hello to you when he sees you and you assume you are being snubbed when, in fact, he was late for an appointment and was thinking about whether he had enough gas to get there without stopping. 


Counteracting overgeneralization:

Ask yourself if you have any facts to support this thought? Is there something else the evidence could mean? How can you check to see if it's really true? Are you trying to predict the future? Example: Everyone hates me. Ask yourself who hates you, when do they hate you, why do they hate you, do they always hate you or is this an isolated incident? Is it really "everybody" or is there just one person who acts cool to you? Look for broad, all encompassing statements.


4. MIND READING: 

Without them saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you're able to tell how people are feeling toward you. If people stop talking when you enter a room, you assume they must be saying something negative about you. You also assume others are the same as you and see and do things as you would. "I'm quiet when I'm angry and she's quiet so she must be angry and it's probably with me and I don't know what I've done." It's based on something you thought, with no real basis for it. You're feeling guilty, rejected, confused, possibly angry, definitely upset and it's all based on reading the other person's mind. If there really was a problem, you removed the chance to find out what it was and fixing it. Notice when you say things like, I had a hunch your were feeling/thinking that, or I can tell, or I pick up on those things.


Counteracting mind reading:

This takes being accurate and factual. Concentrate on what you know, not what you assume. Tell yourself, "I can't possibly know what that person is thinking." Check the facts out. Ask people what they're thinking. Ask yourself what other options this could mean. Don't expect a negative reaction automatically. You may think others are looking down on you and they really haven't done or said anything to give you that idea. The world doesn’t revolve around you.


5. CATASTROPHIZING: 

You expect disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start: What if's:" What if a tragedy strikes? What if it happens to me? One area catastrophizing hits you is in not being able to control the situation. 


Counteracting catastrophizing:

One way to combat this is to have another thought you can go to. Whenever you recognize yourself thinking catastrophically think about something else. Keep going to the new thought. This distorted thinking is dealt with again by looking at the facts and not going from "every thing's great to every thing's falling apart and the world's coming to an end." What happened to someone else doesn't have to happen to you. Look at the situation logically instead of emotionally. You also might consider a worse case scenario. Figure how you will deal with the problem. 


6. PERSONALIZING:

This is thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who's smarter, better looking, etc. Only compare yourself to yourself. You may pick 10 people who are each better than you are at 1 thing. You begin to see yourself as incompetent, but none of them are good at all 10 things. If someone makes a negative comment about something or someone like, "People should read the newspaper and keep up with current events." You feel guilty because you don't read the newspapers and keep up with current events. A twinge goes off inside you that says, "They're talking about me. I wonder if they know that I don't read the newspaper?" "I'm embarrassed." "I'm not as good, or worthwhile as another person." "I should do more." One of the problems you may encounter is that you overcompensate and do things inappropriately. If you're trying to be funny, you may embarrass yourself and others by being silly in a serious situation. You're being controlled by external situations and constantly reacting to them. 


Counteracting personalizing:

We are all different and when you compare yourself with others, you are forgetting that they have imperfections, and maybe even negative mind-chatter they're dealing with. People don't always let you see failures in their lives. They only want to show you and the world their successes. Nobody has your body, brains, talents, energy, abilities, and life. When you see yourself comparing yourself to others, say, "I can state accurately who I am without comparing myself to anyone else." Those people have nothing to do with me.


7. CONTROL FALLACIES: 

The extreme of feeling externally controlled, has you see yourself as helpless, a victim. Everyone is controlling you except you. You feel you have no influence over others. You may feel life is against you. Your mind chatter tells you that you're helpless in the situation, you can't do... The more you think this way, the weaker you become until you can't move in any direction because everyone is against you. You feel helpless, hopeless, and depressed. It can even lead to suicide. It's totally destructive to your ability to succeed. You have a tendency to look to others to solve your problems and to take care of you. When you do that, you give control of yourself over to another person and give that person permission to do anything they want to you.


The extreme of feeling internally controlled has you feeling responsible for the pain or happiness of everyone around you. Many women feel this. Being internally controlled is healthy. You are accountable for you own actions. But you're not accountable for anyone else's actions including your spouse or children after they reach a certain age. If your husband drinks too much at a party and makes a fool of himself, it's his problem, not yours. You have no reason to feel guilty. When things are out of your control and you feel a loss of control, you may feel guilty or angry or like a failure. To recognize this happening, you may say to yourself, "I must make them listen", or "I'll take care of getting him there on time." You may be taking the responsibility away from the person who should bear the responsibility. 


Counteracting control fallacies:

If your negative mind-chatter tells you that you're losing control over your life, make a list of the areas over which you do have control. Instead of giving up, think of ways you can get control over areas that are out now of control. Find ways to get your needs met. Feeling like a victim builds until you feel totally helpless. The sooner you put a stop to it, the sooner you can gain control over areas lost to you. Stop and look the situation over. Is there anything you can do differently? Is there anyone who can help you? Talking things over with someone who cares about you may be all you need. Remind yourself that you have options and you will get through this. 


If you feel responsible for others, look at the situation objectively. They have to take responsibility for themselves. You can help if it works out, but that's not the same as having everyone depend on you when they should be depending on themselves or others. Each person is ultimately responsible for himself. By taking on that person’s responsibilities and consequences, you're robbing them of a learning experience.


8. FALLACY OF FAIRNESS: 

You feel resentful because you think you know what's fair, but other people won't agree with you. Part of the problem is that you feel you can't control the situation and make things right. Or you may feel it's your responsibility to control the situation to make things right. Save the whales is fine and there is nothing wrong with that. If you expect others to agree with you and get angry when they don't, you're being unrealistic. Your priorities are different than another person's priorities. Not everyone values the same things with the same intensity. 


Counteracting the fallacy of fairness:

What is dear to your heart is going to be different than what's dear to another person’s heart. Life isn't fair and when you can do something to make it fair, fine. The rest of the time realize that you can't change everything and everyone. 


9. BLAMING: 

You hold other people or situations responsible for your pain, your inabilities, and your failures. This keeps you from learning from your mistakes and improving on them. You're externally motivated. "I can't help it." You've given up control of your life to external situations and people. "My parents spanked me when I was little and besides that, we moved around a lot. That's why I'm the way I am today." If you don't take responsibility for your actions, productive and non-productive, you won't have a fulfilling life. Blaming is an easy way to live. Nothing is expected of you and nothing is lost except your respect for yourself and any fulfillment.


Or you take the other direction and blame yourself for every one else's problem. This is when a person is internally motivated. Everything comes from you. This is usually a good thing, but taking it to the extreme can be damaging. Blaming yourself means you think of yourself as the only person who has an effect on others. One symptom of blaming yourself even on a subconscious level is to apologize for problems that have nothing to do with you. "I'm sorry you're not feeling well today." This may mean you understand how they feel and it comes out this way, but to some degree, you're taking responsibility for their problem.


Counteracting blaming:

Stop judging yourself. Every time you think in a judging way, recognize it as distorted thinking and consider the true facts of the situation. Recognize that you're not perfect. You're human. That's Ok. You're not in charge of other people and it doesn't reflect badly when other people act in an unbecoming way. Work toward forgiving yourself. Don't let guilt destroy your life.


10. EMOTIONAL REASONING: 

You believe that what you feel must be true - automatically. If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring. NOT TRUE! 


Use facts to come to conclusions and not emotions to make judgments and decide what's real. These can change according to your mood and are unreliable to make accurate decisions. It will also put you on a roller coaster. You'll be up one day and down the next. Your mind-chatter casually whispers, "stupid" and you start to feel stupid. Then you believe you must be stupid since you feel that way. 


Counteracting emotional reasoning:

Look for the key to why you feel the negative emotion. Negative emotions are what you need to attack and conquer. Tell yourself that your emotions are lying to you. When an emotion comes on you suddenly, be suspicious of it. Look deeper than the emotion. Look at the thought objectively and the emotional pain will go away. Don't let your emotions make decisions for you. You have a thought, which creates an emotion, which leads to reasoning emotionally instead of logically. Just because you feel a certain way doesn't mean that feeling is true. Many of your fears are based on negative mind-chatter. Your feelings will change when your thinking changes.


11. FALLACY OF CHANGE: 

You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or nag them enough. You need to change people because your hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them. This goes along with the fallacy that you need that one certain person and if you don't have them you will just die. They are the only one who will make you happy. If you're feeling that now, you'll grow out of it. Nobody is motivated by another person. You can provide an atmosphere and environment of love and acceptance and approval, but you can't make them change. That person is motivated to do what he/she wants to do, usually to meet some need in them. 


When you change, you may be able to expect some changes in another person, but you can't use that information to manipulate them and make them do what you want. You may say, "It's for their own good," but you're deciding for them what's best for them. You've taken away the ability for that person to decide what's best for them. Fallacy of change includes giving unsolicited advice because you believed this person would be better off if they took your advice. 


Counteracting the fallacy of change:

Instead of needing the other person to change, work on improving yourself. Find other interests and people to take up the slack. If you're married to someone and you feel the need to change them, realize they probably won't change. Can you live with that? Are they someone you can spend less time with? Can you get your needs met in another way, with other friends? Ask yourself why you so badly need this person to change.


12. LABELING: 

You use exaggerations and labels for people, things, and actions, “I'm a slob, I'm worthless, I'm stupid.” These words carry a lot of power in them and you view others or yourself in an extreme way. You may hear "I'm a quitter" from your mind chatter when, in fact you made the decision to go in another direction. 


Counteracting labeling:

Look for statements that are judgmental such as huge, stupid, lazy, a failure, slow. “You'll never make it, you're out of control, others will think you're a jerk, stupid, dumb, a failure, a loser." These are broad, inaccurate statements. These statements are only telling something about one characteristic. When you hear, "You're always defensive." Take the judgment out of it. Tell yourself, “that label is not true in this instance and does not reflect who I am.” Say," I will not call myself names and insult myself. I have good traits," (and then name them). State the facts, as they really exist, not in an exaggerated form.


13. SHAME

Shame is not the same thing as guilt. Shamed is when you feel you're inferior to another. It's not based on what you do, but who you are. There is a place for shame. In a healthy situation, it's the opposite of modesty. Modesty is healthy. Shame that is misplaced is destructive. Shame is usually in the areas of physical body, lack of abilities, feeling you have a defect (are somehow less than another). It may show up as a fear of intimacy, wanting to avoid others, not making eye contact, self-criticizing expecting others to abuse you, not taking responsibility for an embarrassing situation, attacking others (bringing someone else down to where you see yourself), starting a fight. 


Counteracting shame

When an event triggers an attack of shame, notice your body reactions. They may be lowering the eyes, blushing, slumping posture. The person tends to be either defensive or accepting shame as a fact. The best way to stop the shame is to stop the normal automatic response. Look at the situation objectively. Remove the emotions. Another healthy response is to focus on something outside yourself. Look at a window, another person, a flower, anything. This gives you time to readjust and stop the automatic response. This is a good idea anytime you feel out of control in a situation.


References:

Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapies and emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.

Burns, D. D. (2012). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: New American Library.

Leahy, R.L. (2017). Cognitive Therapy Techniques, Second Edition: A Practitioner’s Guide. New York: Guilford Press.

McKay, M. & Fanning, P. (2016). Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem. New York: New Harbinger Publications.

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