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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Is Your Thinking Twisted?

Lots of times, the way we think about things affects our moods, attitude, behaviors, etc.  Below is a list of different forms of 'twisted thinking'.  Do you recognize any of these in yourself?  Well, do not freak out if you see yourself in these 10 different forms of twisted thinking.  We all need to be aware of 'how' we think and 'why' we think--and in what manner.  Each form of twisted thinking is explained with an example following.

1.  All-or-Nothing Thinking: (Author's note:  I used to do this a lot and talked about it in an earlier blog message--check the archives--but now I recognize what it is and so therefore set a boundary in my mind to not go down that path of reasoning).  If you see things in black-or-white categories.  If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure.  When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely."  This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream.

2.  Over-generalization: You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it.  A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird poo on the windshield of his car.  He told himself, "Just my luck!  Birds are always pooing on my car!"

3.  Mental Filter:  You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all reality become darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water.  Example:  You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical.  You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4.  Discounting the Positive:  You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count."  If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well.  Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5.  Jumping to Conclusions:  You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.  Mind reading:  Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negative to you.  Fortune-telling:  You predict that things will turn out badly.  Before a test you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it.  What if I flunk?"  If you're depressed you may tell yourself, "I'll never get better."

6.  Magnification:  You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities.  This is also called the "binocular trick".

7.  Emotional Reasoning:  You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are.  "I feel terrified about going on airplanes.  It must be very dangerous to fly." or "I feel quilty.  I must be a rotten person." or "I feel angry.  This proves I'm being treated unfairly." or "I feel so inferior.  This means I'm a second-rate person." or "I feel hopeless.  I must really be hopeless."

8.  Should Statements:  You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be.  After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes."  This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days.  "Musts", "oughts", and "have-to's" are similar offenders.  "Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration.  Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration:  "He shouldn't be so stubborn and argumentative."  Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything.  "I shouldn't eat that donut."  This usually doesn't work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite.  

 9.  Labeling:  Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking.  Instead of thinking, "I made a mistake.", you attach a negative label to yourself:  "I'm a loser."  You might also label yourself a "fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk."  Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do.  Human beings exist, but "fools", "losers", and "jerks" do not.  These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem.  You may also label others.  When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself:  "He's a snob."  Then you feel that the problem is with that person's character or essence instead of with their thinking or behavior.  You see them as totally bad.  This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.

10.  Personalization and Blame:  Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't exactly under your control.  When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am."--instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child.  When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I were better in the bedroom he wouldn't beat me."  Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy.  Some people do the opposite.  They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem:  "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my husband is totally unreasonable."  Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap.  It's like the game of hot potato--no one wants to get stuck with it. 

Do any of these sound familiar?  I know I've done some of these myself.  Sometimes, we just need to set mental boundaries once we recognize the unhelpful thought patterns we possess.  When you notice it--dismiss it in your mind and think of something positive.  It takes practice to get better at it.  Keep trying and you'll get there.