Give it the rock-solid test. Can you identify with any of these distorted thinking patterns?
1. I feel guilty, stupid, boring etc. Therefore I must be guilty, stupid, boring etc. Drawing conclusions based on our feelings is called emotional reasoning. Feelings are triggered by thoughts and if your thinking is inaccurate then you can feel bad about yourself without just cause. Good examples are:
a. Filtering – When you filter out the positives to concentrate on the negatives then you make the negatives seem worse than they actually are.
Example: Jenny sits an exam and when she finishes she continually worries about the two or three mistakes she knows she has made. The fact that she answered most of the questions well is of little comfort to her as she is too concerned with the ones she answered incorrectly.
Jenny can achieve a more balanced perspective by looking at her answers as a whole and giving equal attention to the ones she answered correctly. This way of thinking can be applied to all aspects of life and will give you a more realistic outlook.
b. Polarizing – Polarized thinking leaves no room for middle ground. Things can only be good or bad, black or white with no grey in between. If we use the example above, polarized thinking might lead Jenny to conclude that she is a failure. With polarized thinking Jenny only has two options: she is either perfect or she is a failure. Since she has made some mistakes she cannot be perfect. In this instance Jenny has no choice other than to conclude that she is a failure.
This all or nothing view can make you a harsh judge when it comes to evaluating yourself.
c. Overgeneralisation – This happens when you take one incident or factual piece of evidence and use it to draw a general conclusion. If Jenny were to fail her exam she might then conclude that she will never succeed in passing another exam. This distorted way of thinking can restrict personal growth, especially if it means you begin to avoid situations where you’ve had previous bad experiences. Overuse of the word ‘always’ and ‘never’ are clear indicators that you are overgeneralising. As a result of Jenny’s failed attempt at passing her exam, she might overgeneralise and say, “I never do well in exams” or “I always make a mess of things”. This is a get out clause that says, “I might as well not even try”. This type of thinking can lead to a sense of overall failure, which may stop you from trying altogether.
A more realistic (and healthier) way for Jenny to view her experience would be to say, “I didn’t do well on this exam”. This way she can learn from her experience in a way that will better prepare her for the next time she sits an exam.
2. I expect something awful to happen to me every time I pick up the newspaper and read about problems happening elsewhere. This type of thinking is an indicator that you don’t trust yourself enough to deal with the ordinary challenges of life. This habit of catastrophising serves to convince you that you are forever at the mercy of something far bigger than anything you could possibly handle, which essentially lets you off the hook (nothing I can do) when things eventually go wrong.
Learning to react to the situation at hand rather than what you imagine to be the worst-case scenario – is a good way to keep things in perspective. This will also help build confidence in your ability to meet life’s everyday challenges head on.
3. I imagine that people feel and think the same way I do, which means that I don’t need to listen to what other people have to say. Actually mind reading is inaccurate at best and dangerous at its worst. You can miss out on important messages that tell you how someone feels if you don’t open your mind to the possibility that other people may see things from a different perspective.
The best way to find out what someone is thinking or feeling is to ask.
4. Everything I observe around me (what people are doing and saying) is a reflection of what people think and feel about me. The world does not revolve around you so don’t assume that everything that happens relates to you. This unhealthy way of thinking means that you put your own value in question. You may unfairly compare yourself to other people and worry about what they are thinking about you. Learn to trust your own internal evaluation. It’s the only one that really matters.
5. I resent the fact that people treat me unfairly. Your view of what is fair does not necessarily agree with other people’s idea of fairness. People have different views about what is fair and until you recognise this you will continue to feel resentful that – in your eyes at least – you are being treated unfairly.
6. I blame other people for how things have turned out for me. Take responsibility for the fact that you have freedom of choice and can make changes if you really want to.
7. My happiness depends on other people’s actions so I spend a lot time trying to change them to suit me. The problem with this way of thinking is that you cannot change or control what other people do. The key to your own happiness depends on your own life choices. You alone are responsible for your own happiness and it is a fruitless effort to try and change other people.
8. I believe in certain rules of behaviour (for others as well as myself) and it makes me angry when other people don’t follow these rules. And if I don’t follow them I feel guilty. Everyone has his or her own values and beliefs, which may or may not agree with your own. Sticking to a rigid set of rules means that you are constantly finding fault with yourself and others. Don’t be controlled by the rules. Trust in your own judgement and go with what you feel is right at the time.
Jane Hipkiss Counselling – Darlington