Now, we will take each of the above cognitive distortions and discuss some powerful coping strategies that will help you dispel the blues before they even start.
John recently applied for a promotion in his company. The job went to another employee with more experience. John wanted this job very badly and now feels that he will never be promoted. He feels that he is a total failure in his career.
This type of thinking is characterised by absolute terms like “always, never, and forever”. Few situations are ever this absolute. There are generally grey areas. Eliminate these absolute terms from your vocabulary, except for the cases where they truely apply. Look for a more accurate description of the situation. Here’s an example of self-talk that John could have used to cope with not getting that promotion:
“I really wanted this job a lot, but it went to someone with more experience. This is disappointing to me, but it doesn’t mean I’m not a good employee. Other opportunities will be available in the future. I’ll keep working on my skills so that I’ll be ready for them when they arrive. This one setback does not mean my career is over. Overall, I have excelled in my work”.
Linda is lonely and often spends most of her time at home. Her friends sometimes ask her to come out for dinner and meet new people. Linda feels that that is it useless to try to meet people. No one really could like her. People are all mean and superficial anyway.
When one over-generalises, one takes an isolated case or cases and assumes that all others are the same. Are people really all mean and superficial and could never like her? What about her friends who are trying to get her to go out? Obviously she does have someone who cares about her. The next time you catch yourself over-generalising, remind yourself that even though a group of people may share something in common, they are also separate and unique individuals. No two people are exactly the same. There may be mean and superficial people in this world. There may even be people who dislike you. But, not every person will fit this description. By assuming that everyone doesn’t like you, you are building a wall that will prevent you from having what you crave the most — real friendship.
Mary is having a bad day. As she drives home, another driver cuts her off. She growls to herself that there are nothing but rude and insensitive people in Auckland. Later, a kind man waves her to go ahead of him. She continues on her way still angry at how rude all the people in Auckland are.
When a person falls victim to mental filters they are mentally singling out only the bad events in their lives and overlooking the positive. Learn to look for that silver lining in every cloud ! It’s all about how you choose to let events affect you. Mary could have turned her whole day around if she had paid attention to that nice man who went out of his way to help her. Every day there is always something nice that happens – if you look for it and see it that way.
Disqualifying the Positive
Rhonda just had her photo portrait made. Her friend tells her how beautiful she looks. Rhonda brushes aside the compliment by saying that the photographer “must have touched up the picture”. She says she never looks that good in real life. We depressives are masters at taking the good in a situation and turning it into a negative. A delicious chocolate cake quickly becomes a mud pie in our mind. Part of this comes from a tendency to have low self-esteem. We feel like we just don’t deserve it. How to turn this around is simple. The next time someone compliments you, resist the little voice inside that says you don’t deserve it. Just say “thank you” and smile. The more you do this, the easier it will become.
Jumping to Conclusions
Geoff is waiting for his date at a restaurant. She’s now 20 minutes late. Geoff laments to himself that he must have done something wrong and now she has stood him up. Meanwhile, across town, his date is stuck in traffic. “What a bitch, she has stood me up” thinks Geoff.
Once again, we fall victim to our own insecurities. We expect the worst and begin preparing early for the disappointment. By the time we find out that all our fears were unfounded, we’ve worked ourselves into a frenzy and for what? Next time do this: Give the person the benefit of the doubt. You’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary worry. If your fears have some basis in reality, however, drop that person from your life like a hot potato.
Magnification and Minimisation
Scott is playing rugby. He bungles a move that he’s been practicing for weeks. He later scores the winning try. His teammates compliment him. He tells them he should have played better; the try was “just dumb luck”.
Have you ever looked through a telescope from the wrong direction? Everything looks tinier than it really is. When you look through the other end, everything looks larger. People who fall into the magnification/minimisation trap look at all their successes through the wrong end of the telescope and their failures through the other end.
What can you do to stay away from this error? Remember the old saying, “He can’t see the forest for the trees?” When one mistake bogs us down, we forget to look at the overall picture. Step back and look at the forest now and then. Overall, Scott played a great game. So what if he made a mistake? Big deal.
Laura looks around her untidy house and feels overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. She feels that it’s hopeless to even try to clean. Laura has based her assessment of the situation on how it makes her feel, not how it really is. It may make her feel bad to think of the large task ahead of her, but is it really hopeless? In reality, cleaning her house is a achievable task. She just doesn’t feel up to it. She has reached the conclusion that it is useless to try based on the fact that it overwhelms her.
When a situation feels overwhelming, try this: Break the task down into smaller ones. Then prioritise what is most important to you. Now, do the first task on your list. Believe it or not, you will begin to feel better and ready for more. The important thing is to just do something towards your goal. No matter how small, it’s a start and will break you out of feeling helpless.The longest journey begins with the smallest of steps.
David is sitting in his doctor’s waiting room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing, fuming, and thinking, “With how much I’m paying him, he should be on time. He ought to have more consideration.” He ends up feeling bitter and resentful.
We all think things should be a certain way, but let’s face it, they aren’t. Concentrate on what you can change and if you can’t change it, accept it as part of life and go on. Your mental health is more important than “the way things should be.”
Labeling and Mislabeling
Donna just cheated on her diet. “I’m a fat, lazy pig” she thinks.
What Donna has done is label herself as lazy and hopeless. She most likely will reason that since she can’t lose weight, she may as well eat. She has now effectively trapped herself by living up to the label she placed on herself.
When we label ourselves, we set ourselves up to become whatever that label entails. This can just as easily work to our advantage. Here’s what Donna could have done to make labeling work in her favour. She could have considered the fact that up until now she has been strong. She could then forgive herself for only being human and acknowledge that she has been working hard to lose weight and has been succeeding. This is a temporary setback that she can overcome. Overall, she is a strong person and has proven it by her successful weight loss. With this type of positive thinking, Donna will feel better and be back to work on her weight loss goals in no time.
Jean’s son is doing poorly in school. She feels that she must be a bad mother. It’s all her fault that he isn’t studying. Jean is taking all the responsibility for how her son is doing in school. She is failing to take into consideration that her son is an individual who is ultimately responsible for himself. She can do her best to guide him, but in the end he controls his actions.
Next time you find yourself doing this, ask yourself, “Would I take credit if this person were doing something praiseworthy? Chances are you’d say, “No, he accomplished that all by himself.” So why blame yourself when he does something not so praiseworthy? Beating yourself up is not going to change his behaviour. Only he can do that.
The solutions I’ve presented here are some of the common situations we find ourselves in. Take these as examples and create your own positive solutions to your negative thoughts. Recognising that you do it is the first step. Then play devil’s advocate and challenge yourself to find the positive. Turn your thoughts around and your moods will follow suit. Your thoughts become you – Remember, you are what you think!