Everyone has negative and self defeating thoughts — or what we sometimes call negative self talk. The biggest question is not do we have the thoughts, but are we aware of them? Can we pull them to the foreground of our minds? And can we do something to alter/stop negative self talk? Negative self talk that goes on without analysis and efforts to change/alter and re-direct such thinking results in feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt and anger.
So what is a thought distortion? The best definitions come from Dr David D Burns, who many years ago wrote: FEELING GOOD: THE NEW MOOD THERAPY, and in his book he lists the 10 most common thought distortions. Review the list and definitions below and just put a check mark by ones that sound like a good description of what goes on in your head. Remember these are common cognitive distortions and having them does not mean there’s anything wrong with you. It does, however, mean you can be on your way to changing the thoughts so you feel better — consistently!
1-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.
2-Overgeneralization. You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
3-Mental Filter. You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water
4-Discounting the Positive. You reject positive experiences by insisting they ‘don’t count’ for some reason or another. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences
5-Jumping to Conclusions. You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion. For example: Mind Reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and you don’t bother to check this out. And The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly. You feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
6-Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization. You exaggerate the importance of things, such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement, or you inappropriately shrink things — your own desirable qualities or the other person’s imperfections — until they appear tiny.
7-Emotional Reasoning. You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
8-Should Statements. You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts — as if you had 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.
9-Labeling and Mislabeling. This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him/her: “He/she’s a louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
10-Personalization. You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible for.
You might also be interested in an additional Burns book: The Feeling Good Handbook. Burns has made an enormous contribution to the field of cognitive psychotherapy with these concepts. I have used them, as have thousands of therapists, for over 20 years. You will see his name/books in my bibliography in my book on re-directing/changing negative thinking: WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME? MAYBE NOT THAT MUCH!
The purpose of the focus on these 10 distortions is to understand how common the negative thinking is and even more importantly, identify ways to change it — to head thinking in a healthy, problem solving direction.
Again, check or circle the distortions that feel most common for you. And take a minute to write anything down that will be helpful in your analysis of what to do. The blog following this one gives you a process to follow to CHANGE. But first, internalize and reflect on these 10 cognitive distortions. Identify the ones you “hear in your thinking” most frequently. This first step is just about paying attention, bringing your awareness front and center, and deciding you are ready to tackle the thoughts and change them to helpful ways to understand what goes on in your mind!
Listen to Dr. Linda Moore and Mike Manko discuss the implications of negative thinking on the SteveAndMikeRadio.com podcast.