Everything that we experience as we go through life has a way of sticking with us. These experiences impact the overall way that we view ourselves, other people or the world around us.
At times these views become dysfunctional, where our mind attempts to justify irrational beliefs. We try to convince ourselves that these thoughts are accurate, but more often they create emotional pain such as guilt, anger, anxiety, sadness and insecurity.
In order to free ourselves from emotional pain, it is important that we become aware of our thoughts so that we can correct our course.
This is a list of five cognitive distortions that I have seen recently while providing therapy.
Filtering: Like a water filter, our brains can filter out and magnify the negatives surrounding us while letting the positives just pass us by.
All or nothing: This type of thinking causes us to believe that there always has to be a right and a wrong in any given situation. It leaves no room for gray areas, which means that someone is always “good” or “bad,” and if we fall short of perfect, then we are failures.
Over-generalization: This is when we take one piece of information and try to draw a definite conclusion. We find ourselves saying things like, “you never …” or “you always….”
Catastrophizing: This is when we are afraid that the worst is going to happen at any given moment. We find ourselves asking “what if ” questions and fearing the unpredictable future.
Jumping to conclusions: Without proper facts, we assume that we know why something is happening or what someone’s intentions are. “My boss did not look at me, so he must be mad at me.”
It is possible that you have experienced all five of these at some time or another, and that is not uncommon. Having a dysfunctional thought does not define you.
However, when those thoughts go unmanaged, they can cause us to have uncomfortable emotions that often lead to ineffective behaviors. These thoughts become automatic, as if we are running on a default setting.
Remember, these automatic thoughts were not created overnight and changing them requires time and consistency.
The first step is to catch yourself. Begin to recognize the thoughts that you are having and what is causing them. Tell yourself that it is just a thought. Give yourself time to think.
Don’t just look at the evidence that supports your automatic thought. Begin to look at the evidence that does not support it.
Lastly, work towards changing your automatic thought to a more rational and balanced thought.
Philip Searcy MSW, LISW-CP is an individuals and couples therapist with Psychological and Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.