We all tend to think in extremes and when traumatic events happen we think that way even more. This is called cognitive distortions. They are broken down into the following categories:
- All or Nothing Thinking - You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect you see yourself as a total failure.
- Overgeneralisation - You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
- Mental Filter - You pick out a single negative detail and dwell exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolours the entire beaker of water.
- Disqualifying the positive - You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
- Jumping to Conclusions - You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion. This is broken down into two more sub-sections: MIND READING where you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don't bother to check it out and THE FORTUNE TELLER where you anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
- Magnification (Catastrophising) or Minimisation - You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections). This is also called the "binocular trick".
- Emotional Reasoning - You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true".
- Should Statements - You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if you has to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration and resentment.
- Labelling and Mislabelling - This is an extreme form of overgeneralisation. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser". When someone else's behaviour rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, "he's a damn louse". Mislabelling involves describing an event with language that is highly coloured and emotionally loaded.
- Personalisation - You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.
Now that you are aware of what cognitive distortions are, remember to treat yourself the way you would want to treat a friend - sympathetically which much more understanding and tolerance. It's ok to make mistakes, learning from them (and being nice to yourself while you're doing it) it is an important part of personal development.
The following information comes from www.zerotolerancetonegativethinking.com.
You must change the way you think and your emotions will naturally take care of themselves. When your thoughts are healthy and positive, your emotions become healthy and positive as well.
You have a choice. You can allow negative thinking and depression to rule your life, or you can re-establish command and control over your thoughts and push your mind in a positive direction.
Marsha Linehan author of Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality uses ACCEPTS to help overcome cognitive distortions.
Activities - excercise, hobbies, clean, visit a friend etc
Contribute - volunteer, do something nice for someone or say something thoughtful
Comparison - remember there are many worse off
Emotions - watch a movie or listen to music that will change your emotions for the better
Push Away - Push the situation away by leaving it for awhile, take a break from your worries
Thoughts - Watch tv, read, do anything that will change your thought pattern
Sensations - clutch a piece of ice, squeeze a tennis ball, have sex (yes this was seriously suggested)
And finally one thing I also came across in my travels through cyberspace - instead of asking "why is this happening to me?" ask yourself "what can I do to make things better?"
I hope you have found this both informative and helpful. I certainly read and re-read this information a lot at the moment and find it very valuable in helping me deal with my own cognitive distortions (of which there are many).