Avoid Cognitive Distortions (“Labeling” & “Personalization”)

What are cognitive distortions?  Cognitive distortions can be considered slips in our thinking that we all make at times. They are a derivative of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  The main premise behind them is that your thoughts have an enormous impact on your emotions and the way you are feeling.  So, if you are feeling terrible, there is a big chance that you are thinking in an unhelpful way.  These unhelpful thinking styles cause us to jump to incorrect conclusions, make false assumptions, and much more.

Ten main cognitive distortions cause us to feel bad about ourselves, others, and situations/circumstances.  So far, the cognitive distortions all or nothing,” “mental filtering,”disqualifying the positive,” “jumping to conclusions”, “emotional reasoning”, “overly rigid rule-keeping” , “catastrophizing”  and “overgeneralizing” have been addressedDuring this blog post, the cognitive distortions “labeling”  and “personalization” will be presented, along with a way to overcome and avoid using these unhealthy thinking styles.

Labeling occurs when we assign “labels” to ourselves, others, and situations during specific circumstances.  When we do this, we are defining what we are labeling by a particular circumstance and are not considering other positive characteristics and circumstances.  For example, you might label yourself as  “inadequate” because you were unable to do one thing successfully.  In this example, you define yourself based on one situation and fail to consider all of the other things you can do quite adequately. Or, consider you hear someone say something that you do not agree with and assign them the label of “stupid.”  In this example, although you might not agree with what the person has said, you fail to consider that they may have other thoughts or opinions that you could very well agree with.  (I agree that people can do some “stupid” things, but labeling them “stupid” based on a particular situation is not fair). 

There are several actions we can take to avoid this unhealthy thinking style.  First, we can accept that we, others, and situations are complex and continuously changing.  One action or circumstance does not typically define a person or a situation.  Second, we can consider the evidence that does not fit the labels we have assigned.  Maybe our assessment of the situation is correct in this instance, but is it correct in every instance?  Finally, we can celebrate the complexities and uniqueness of all individuals, including ourselves.  Everyone is unique, ever-changing, and multi-faceted.  Labeling ourselves, others, and situations based on a particular circumstance is an extreme version of overgeneralizing.  One bad act or circumstance does not necessarily equate to a bad person or situation. 

Personalization occurs when we take the blame for everything that goes wrong around us.  We do this whether we are responsible for the outcome or not.  Specifically, this type of unhealthy thinking style includes believing that we are responsible for things outside of our control.  Although taking responsibility for our lives and our circumstances is admirable, it becomes unhelpful if it ends in us feeling like a victim of circumstance.

Personalizing everything in this way often leads to feeling a sense of shame or guilt about things that we have no control over.  For example, consider that you have a friend in recovery that hasn’t been listening to suggestions or taking their sobriety seriously.  Eventually, they relapse, and you feel guilty for “not doing enough.”  In this example, it is important to realize that you are not responsible for the things you do not have control of.  Although it is important to support your friend, realizing that their decisions are out of your control. 

Personalization can also stem from a sense of insecurity or anxiety.  This type of personalization occurs when we constantly make things about us when they may not be.  For example, consider walking into a meeting where everyone is laughing.  You automatically think that they are laughing at you when, in reality, someone had just told a joke before you walked in. 

There are several questions we can ask ourselves to combat this type of unhealthy thinking style.  By doing this, we can reflect on why it is that we think this way.  Why do I feel responsible for things that I cannot control?  Is this really about me? Am I holding myself to standards that are impossible to meet?  We can also check the facts in these situations.  Do I have control of my friend’s behavior?  Is it a fact that everyone is laughing at me?  Are there other variables and possibilities for other people’s behavior?  Today you can avoid cognitive distortions (“labeling” & “personalization”)!

(Photo by Tim J.)

 

Avoid Cognitive Distortions (“Catastrophizing” & “Overgeneralizing”)

What are cognitive distortions?  Cognitive distortions can be considered slips in our thinking that we all make at times. They are a derivative of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  The main premise behind them is that your thoughts have an enormous impact on your emotions and the way you are feeling.  So, if you are feeling terrible, there is a big chance that you are thinking in an unhelpful way.  These unhelpful thinking styles cause us to jump to incorrect conclusions, make false assumptions, and much more. 

Ten main cognitive distortions cause us to feel bad about ourselves, others, and situations/circumstances.  So far, the cognitive distortions all or nothing,” “mental filtering,”disqualifying the positive,” “jumping to conclusions”, “emotional reasoning”, and “overly rigid rule-keeping” have been addressedDuring this blog post, the cognitive distortions “catastrophizing”  and “overgeneralizing” will be presented, along with a way to overcome and avoid using these unhealthy thinking styles.

Catastrophizing refers to times when we take relatively minor negative circumstances and blow them completely out of proportion.  We do this by imagining the worst and considering all of the disasters that this relatively minor event will cause.  For example, you call to invite a friend over for dinner this Saturday, but they decline your offer.  Before allowing him/her to explain their reasoning, you hang up and conclude that they no longer want to be your friend.  You then go on to imagine your friend telling all of your other friends how foolish you are.  Based on this, you decide that you will no longer have any friends.  How about another more salient example?  Upon hearing your elderly parent sneeze, you immediately assume that they have symptoms of the Caronavirus (CVOID-19).  You go on to imagine him/her wheezing on their death bed and conclude that they will be deceased before the end of the month. 

We can do several things to avoid and alleviate this type of unhealthy thinking style.  First, we can acknowledge it for what it is.  It is simply a thought.  When we begin thinking this way, we can begin to put things in perspective by considering the other possibilities that may be a result of why we are catastrophizing.  Are you sure that our friend no longer wants to be friends?  Could they have valid reasons for declining your offer?  Is it possible that your elderly parent might be sneezing for other reasons?  Could they have seasonal allergies? 

After putting things into perspective, we can consider the evidence that we have for and against the reason for our catastrophizing.  Do you have enough factual evidence that your friend wants to discontinue your relationship?  Have they given you a reason to believe this in the past?  What about the factual evidence regarding your elderly parent?  Do they have a dangerously high fever?  Are they exhibiting any other symptoms that give you evidence to believe your initial thought?

Of course, there is the possibility that your friend could want to end your relationship.  Or your elderly parent could have CVOID-19.  However, before reaching these conclusions, it is important to consider all of the evidence we have for and against them.  By doing this, we can avoid unneeded and unnecessary anxiety. In the worst-case scenario (our catastrophe comes true), we will be in a much better position to handle and overcome it. 

Overgeneralizing occurs when we make assumptions about the future based on an isolated instance in the past or present.  This type of unhealthy thinking style often leads to a strong sense of hopelessness.  For example, you have been cheated on in one of your past relationships.  Based on this, you conclude that ALL relationships will consist of being cheated on.  Or, you know one person who has sneezed and been diagnosed with CVOID-19.  Based on this, you conclude that everyone who sneezes will be diagnosed with CVOID-19.    

To overcome this unhealthy thinking style, we can incorporate several strategies.  First, we can identify our thinking patterns.  Begin to recognize when these overgeneralizations occur.  Become more mindful of these overgeneralizations by writing them down or starting a journal.  After recognizing and recording these negative thoughts, we can begin to recognize patterns related to them.  Now that we have a sense of our patterns related to these overgeneralizations, we can begin to challenge them.  Are they known to be true (for a fact)?  Would another person view these things in the same way? 

Finally, we can replace these negative thoughts with more accurate ones.  For example, my ex cheating on me is not a reflection of the success of my future relationships.  It is a reflection of their moral character more than anything.  And, because one person who sneezes has been diagnosed with CVOID-19 does not mean that everyone who sneezes will be diagnosed with it. In fact, 95% of the population sneezes or blows their nose around four times a day! Today you can avoid cognitive distortions (“catastrophizing” & “overgeneralizing”)!

(Photo by Yoav Aziz)

Avoid Cognitive Distortions (“Emotional Reasoning” & “Overly Rigid Rule Keeping”)

What are cognitive distortions?  Cognitive distortions can be considered slips in our thinking that we all make at times. They are a derivative of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  The main premise behind them is that your thoughts have an enormous impact on your emotions and the way you are feeling.  So, if you are feeling terrible, there is a big chance that you are thinking in an unhelpful way.  These unhelpful thinking styles cause us to jump to incorrect conclusions, make false assumptions, and much more. 

Ten main cognitive distortions cause us to feel bad about ourselves, others, and situations/circumstances.  So far, the cognitive distortions all or nothing,” “mental filtering,” disqualifying the positive,” and “jumping to conclusionshave been addressedDuring this blog post, the cognitive distortions “emotional reasoning”  and “overly rigid rule-keeping” will be presented, along with a way to overcome and avoid using these unhealthy thinking styles.

Emotional reasoning leads us away from thinking rationally.  It refers to situations when we begin to depend solely on our feelings as a guide for our thoughts and behavior.  For example, your significant other has been staying late at work quite frequently.  The main feeling that manifests in this situation is suspicion.  Based on your feeling of suspicion related to your significant other’s behavior, you conclude that they are meeting someone on these evenings.  Or, suppose you feel embarrassed about something you recently did.  Based on your feeling of embarrassment, you conclude that you are stupid.  In each case, you would be basing your conclusions on your current emotional state. 

We can do several things to combat this unhealthy thinking style.  We can start paying attention to our thoughts.  Start paying attention when certain feelings begin to manifest.  Remember that basing our conclusions on our feelings is not always the most appropriate way to measure reality, particularly when we are not in the best emotional state. We can consider how we might view the situation if we were in a calmer state.  At this point, we can consider whether there is any concrete evidence that supports our interpretation of our feelings.  Is there any FACTUAL evidence that suggests that we should be upset about this situation? 

Overly rigid rule keeping refers to assigning overly rigid rules to the way we believe we should behave, others should behave, or how a situation should turn out.  When we assign overly rigid rules to another’s behavior, we will often become angry when they do not conform to our rules.  When we assign overly rigid rules to our behavior, we will often become guilty when we do not conform to the rules.  When we assign overly rigid rules to our expectations of how something should turn out, we are often left feeling disappointed when our expectations have not been met. 

Using terms like “should” and “must” are typically great indicators that we are utilizing this unhealthy thinking style.  These statements provide insight into the standards we uphold and the things we expect from others, ourselves, and situations.  Of course, these standards can be helpful.  However, they can also lead to unrealistic expectations that we, or other people, will find difficult to uphold.  These overly rigid rules that we place on ourselves, others, and situations typically mean that we have not adapted to reality as well as we could.

For example, you might believe that you must have the approval of others.  Or, you think that others should never let you down.  Maybe you think that the meeting you go to tomorrow should be one of the most inspirational meetings you have been to.  In each of these cases, if the expectations of your overly rigid rules are not upheld, you will be left feeling guilty, angry, or disappointed.   

We can combat this unhealthy thinking style by adopting flexible preferences related to our expectations of ourselves, others, and situations.  Rather than making demands on ourselves (“I must have the approval of others”), others (“no one should ever let me down”), and situations (“my meeting tomorrow should be one of the most inspirational meetings I have been to”).  Instead, we can pay attention to the words we are using.  For example, “I prefer the approval of others.”  “I wish no one would let me down.”  “My meeting tomorrow could be one of the most inspirational meetings I have been to.”  Of course, we would prefer all of these things, but are they reality?  Will everything still be fine if they don’t happen? 

We can also remember that the world doesn’t always play by our rules.  Everyone has their own rules they live by.  No matter how much you value your rules, others in your life may not place the same value on them.  Of course, keep your standards, preferences, and ideals, but try to remove your overly rigid rules about you, others, and situations should be.  Today you can avoid cognitive distortions (“emotional reasoning” & “overly rigid rule-keeping”)!

(Photo by Elijah O’Donnell)

Avoid Cognitive Distortions (“Disqualifying the Positive” & “Jumping to Conclusions”)

What are cognitive distortions?  Cognitive distortions can be considered slips in our thinking that we all make at times. They are a derivative of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  The main premise behind them is that your thoughts have an enormous impact on your emotions and the way you are feeling.  So, if you are feeling terrible, there is a big chance that you are thinking in an unhelpful way.  These unhelpful thinking styles cause us to jump to incorrect conclusions, make false assumptions, and much more. 

Ten main cognitive distortions cause us to feel bad about ourselves, others, and situations/circumstances.  The cognitive distortions all or nothing” and “mental filtering” were introduced during our last blog post.  During this blog post, the cognitive distortions “disqualifying the positive”  and “jumping to conclusions” will be presented, along with a way to overcome and avoid using these unhealthy thinking styles. 

Disqualifying the positive refers to processing information in a biased way.  Specifically, seeing everything through a negative lens.  It is a mental process that transforms any positive into something to be considered as neutral or negative in your mind. When we see things through a lens that continues to disqualify the positive, the positive things don’t count because of some made-up rule in our minds.  Like, “I got lucky,” “anyone could do that,” and “that doesn’t count because (insert made-up rule).” 

For example, consider getting complimented for your performance at work. Rather than accepting that you did a good job, you would think “he/she are just saying that” or “yeah, I got lucky.”  Or you finally make it to 90 days sober and think, “it doesn’t really matter because anyone could do that.” Rather than feeling positive about yourself and your achievements, you end up feeling cynical and disappointed. 

There are two central strategies we can use to combat this unhelpful thinking.  First, we can practice accepting compliments and allowing ourselves to acknowledge our strengths.  We can do this by paying attention to our responses to positive information and practicing acknowledging positive aspects about ourselves and others.  Second, we can change our language.  For example, rather than saying, “I got lucky.”  You would say, “I am getting this compliment because I worked hard and earned it.” 

Jumping to conclusions typically includes one of two things.  Either “mind-reading” or “fortune-telling.”  When we “mind-read,” we make assumptions about how others perceive us.  When we “fortune-tell,” we anticipate the worst possible outcome and accept it immediately as fact.  In either case, we are making negative interpretations or predictions without any concrete evidence to support our conclusions.

For example, consider walking into a meeting and seeing two people having a private conversation.  If you are “mind-reading,” you would think, “they are definitely talking about me.”  An example of fortune-telling would be thinking that you are definitely going to get the Corona Virus because other people in the state have it.

To combat this unhealthy thinking style, we should consider all of the evidence that is available to us.  For example, what is the evidence you would have for knowing that those people were talking about you when you walked into your meeting?   What are the facts related to someone acquiring the Corona Virus?  Just because people are having a private conversation does not mean they are talking about me.  Just because people have the Corona Virus in my state does not mean I am going to get it.  Today you can avoid cognitive distortions (“disqualifying the positive” & “jumping to conclusions”)!

(Photo by Charles Deluvio)

Avoid Cognitive Distortions (“All or Nothing” & “Mental Filtering”)

What are cognitive distortions?  Cognitive distortions can be considered slips in our thinking that we all make at times. They are a derivative of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  The main premise behind them is that your thoughts have an enormous impact on your emotions and the way you are feeling.  So, if you are feeling terrible, there is a big chance that you are thinking in an unhelpful way.  These unhelpful thinking styles cause us to jump to incorrect conclusions, make incorrect assumptions, and much more. 

Ten main cognitive distortions cause us to feel bad about ourselves, others, and situations/circumstances.  Throughout my next five blog posts, I will introduce and explain these cognitive distortions as well as provide you with a way to overcome and avoid them.  I will incorporate two into my blog posts a day for my next five blog posts

All or nothing (black and white) thinking is an extreme type of thinking that often leads to extreme emotions and behaviors.  When we utilize this unhealthy thinking style, we see things on the extreme ends of a spectrum.  For example, either you view yourself as perfect or as a failure.  There is no in-between!  Another example is either you are depressed, or you are on top of the world.  Again, there is no in-between. 

Unfortunately, it is very easy to fall into this type of thinking.  Here, I will use a situational example.  Imagine that you have decided that you are no longer going to consume alcohol or other drugs.  You are doing well for two weeks and end up giving in and drinking a beer.  All or nothing thinking would lead you to presume that this is it and that you should just go back to drinking alcohol and doing other drugs. 

To overcome this cognitive distortion, you can utilize a strategy known as “both-and reasoning.” By thinking this way, you are better able to reason with yourself mentally.  Specifically, you can allow yourself to realize that two seemingly opposite things can exist together.  You can both succeed in your goal to ultimately remain sober and have a slip-up or two.  (I am not saying that drinking alcohol or doing other drugs is a good idea when you are seeking sobriety, but if you do have a slip-up, it is not the end.  You can recover!)

Mental filtering occurs when we focus solely on the negative aspects of situations without considering the positive aspects.  When this happens, our current circumstances can be completely fulfilled with a single negative detail.  For example, you believe you are a failure, so your natural tendency is to focus on the mistakes you have made and not consider your success or accomplishments.  Building on our previous cognitive distortion, another example would be focusing only on the fact that you drank that beer.  Not considering that you were able to remain sober for two weeks. 

To overcome this cognitive distortion, you should take time to really collect FACTUAL evidence that contradicts what you are feeling down about.  When doing this, make sure that you are not looking at the situation using that same negative lens that resulted in you feeling this way.  Look at the evidence through the lens of “I am not a failure.”

Another example that might be salient at this time is considering the facts about your current situation related to the Corona Virus (CVOID-19).  Are you healthy?  Is your family healthy?  Are you doing everything you can to ensure that you all remain safe?  Am I alone in this situation?  Answer those questions.  Those are all facts!  Today you can avoid cognitive distortions (“all or nothing” & “filtering”)!

(Photo by Cody Fitzgerald)