February 1, 2011

Cognitive Distortions: One of the Nasty Girl’s Favorite Weapons

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:54 am by kellyfdennis

I hope that the last several posts have given you some awareness of what the Nasty Girl is telling you, the ways that she is bringing you down, and some realistic ammunition to use to refute her voice.  I believe the next step in the process is to gain even more awareness and insight into your own thinking processes and patterns. Before we go any farther, I want to clarify the difference between emotions and thoughts.  Emotions are feelings such as, happy, sad, mad, and scared.  Sometimes people will say things such as, “I felt like he really didn’t want to talk when he didn’t call for two nights.”  Really, what we mean here is that we believed that he didn’t want to talk.  This particular belief or thought may have caused us to have the feeling (or emotion) of sadness or anger. As we move forward, I am going to be asking you to log more of your thoughts and the corresponding feelings.  Therefore, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two. (A word clue: if you find yourself using the word “like” after the word “feel”, then it’s probably not a feeling, but rather a belief or thought.)

As human beings we frequently make errors in thinking, called cognitive distortions. These distortions get tangled up in the Nasty Girl’s messages. They are judgmental; they cause us to label people and situations in a sort of automatic manner before we’ve really had the chance to rationally process things. They allow us to look at the world from only one, biased perspective.  In addition, they are usually emotion-based, not rationally based.

Below are 12 common distortions as listed by Judith Beck, a cognitive psychologist:

  • All or nothing thinking (also called black-and-white thinking): You view a situation in only two categories instead of on a continuum.   Ex: “If I’m not a total success, I’m a failure.”
  • Catastrophizing (fortune-telling):  You predict the future negatively without considering other, more likely outcomes. Ex: “I’ll be so upset; I won’t be able to function at all.”
  • Disqualifying or discounting the positive:  You unreasonable tell yourself that positive experiences, deeds, or qualities do not count. Ex: “I did that project well, but that doesn’t mean I’m competent; I just got lucky.”
  • Emotional reasoning:  You think something must be true because you “feel” (actually believe) it so strongly, ignoring or discounting evidence to the contrary.Ex:  I  know I do a lot of things okay at work, but I still feel like (actually believe) I’m a failure.”
  • Labeling:  You put a fixed, global label on yourself or others without considering that the evidence might more reasonably lead to a less disastrous conclusion.     Ex:  “I’m a loser, he’s no good.”
  • Magnification/minimization:  When you evaluate yourself, another person, or a situation, you unreasonably magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive. Ex: “Getting a mediocre evaluation proves how inadequate I am.  Getting high marks doesn’t mean I’m smart.”
  • Selective abstraction:  You pay undue attention to one negative detail instead of seeing the whole picture. Ex:  “Because I got one low rating on my evaluation (which also contained several high ratings) it means I’m doing a lousy job.”
  • Mind reading: You believe you know what others are thinking; failing to consider other, more likely possibilities. Ex:  “He’s thinking that I don’t know the first thing about this project.”
  • Overgeneralization:  You make a sweeping negative conclusion that goes far beyond the current situation. Ex:  “(Because I felt uncomfortable at the meeting) I don’t’ have what it takes to make friends.”
  • Personalization:   You believe others are behaving negatively because of you, without considering more plausible explanations for their behavior. Ex:  “The repairman was curt to me because I did something wrong.”
  • “Should” and “must “statements (imperatives):  You have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave and you overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met. Ex:  “It’s terrible that I made a mistake.  I should always do my best.”
  • Tunnel Vision:  You only see the negative aspects of a situation. Ex:  “My son’s teacher can’t do anything right.  He’s critical and insensitive and lousy at teaching.”

Your task for today is to go back to your first exercise in which you wrote down your thoughts for a few days.  First, be sure that you have identified thoughts, not feelings.  Then, read the above errors in thinking and see if you can identify which ones you participate in most often.  Remember, we all make errors in thinking.  Becoming aware of them give you even more fire power in refuting the Nasty Girl’s messages to you.

Until tomorrow…

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