“Never give a negative thought an inch or it will take a mile.”
When we are anxious, we spend way too much time worrying about our health, what we said, what we did, our kids, future events, and just about anything else you can think of. Cognitive distortions are specific, distorted, biased ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us.
This Is Not Who You Are, It Is What You Are Thinking
Research has been done and there is a designated term and definition for each and every unrealistic way of thinking. I suffered from just about all of them. But when I saw all of the distortions spelled out for me, I was able to separate myself from them. This way of thinking was not who I was as a person (just the way I am), they were just the way I was thinking. They are very common with anxiety disorders. Just because we have been thinking this way for a long time doesn’t mean we have to continue with it. This concept comes from cognitive behavioral therapy, which is what helped me overcome my anxiety.
1. Mind Reading
You assume that someone is judging you, or looking down on you without really knowing what they are thinking. You create situations in your mind about what a person is thinking and you get defensive. Everybody does this even if they don’t have anxiety. It can be helpful because if their intuition tells them that somebody is struggling, they can be more compassionate. But when we’re anxious, we do it way too much and it’s not helpful to our well-being.
Can you be 100% sure you are correct?
You might get defensive or take it personally if you meet someone who appears to cold and not interested in you. But can we know with 100% certainty that this is true that the person feels this way? And if you’re not, then it’s a waste of time worrying about it. He/She might be worried about something, or not feel comfortable in social situations. Another thought is that not everyone is going to like us for whatever reason. We can’t spend our time trying to convince people that they should. There are plenty of people who do!
Another Example: Your husband is silent and you are wondering what you did wrong. You get angry and silent too, even though he’s just thinking or daydreaming.
2. All or Nothing Thinking (Black and White Thinking)
This is when we see something as really good or really bad, right or wrong without considering that there may be a middle ground which is more reasonable. If we make a mistake or have a bad day, we feel that we failed or never do anything right. Watch out for these words: never, always, everyone and all.
Example: You’re always late, I’m always going to have anxiety, you never help me, I never do anything right, everyone feels that way. These statements are rarely 100% true.
3. Fortune Telling
You look at things in a dark way. Before something happens, you make up your mind that it will turn out bad, predicting that it is an already-established fact.
4. Emotional Reasoning
Believing that your negative thoughts are true
“If I think fearful thoughts, they must be true.”
“I’m afraid of flying, therefore planes are dangerous, I’m afraid of having cancer, so I have it, or will get it, I think I’m stupid, so I must be, or I “feel it” so it must be true”.
You most likely have the evidence that your thought is not true, so stop entertaining it.
These are beliefs that we have carried around about ourselves for so long (often since childhood) that aren’t true. We made up the lie that we are not good enough, or smart enough, or don’t deserve to be happy all the time, and then we believe it.
6. Filtering Information Negatively
Filtering focuses on the negative and excludes the positive. You will pick a negative detail that involves your health, weight or looks and dwell on it. Or if 20 people compliment you and one person says something negative, you filter it out and dwell on the negative. We need to look at the whole picture and be a better friend to ourselves.
Things have to be a certain way with this kind of thinking. You think that you and other people should do things because it’s “expected”. Some examples are:
- I should clean my house more, (even though I don’t really want to)
- I should always be in control
- People should appreciate me
- Things should be fair
- Everyone should like me
- I should be more outgoing
- I should be a better parent
- I should be treated the way I treat others
These “shoulds” are impossible to fulfill. We don’t always get what we deserve and life is not fair. We just have to work hard and hope for the best. Eliminating the unimportant shoulds will decrease anxiety.
The house should be cleaned better and more often
This belief comes from conditioning and you do it without really knowing why – maybe even since childhood. You don’t like doing it, but it still remains a big part of your routine. You just can’t go out and have fun on a Saturday until everything’s done. With only 52 Saturdays a year, what are we thinking!? Who says we have to clean the house more – especially when we don’t want to? I got rid of this “should” and I’m making up for lost time. In addition, consider getting rid of all the stuff in your house that you don’t love. This can save you several hours a week, so when you do clean, it can be thorough and quick.
I should more outgoing
I thought I should be more outgoing because I’ve always been a friendly person. But an article Called The Power of Shyness from Time Magazine changed that for me. I learned to embrace that I’m actually more introverted and enjoy spending time alone. I like spending time with my family, and being with small groups of people where I can have more meaningful conversations. Extroverts are great too and the two types of people work well together. It’s OK to be either/or – it’s whatever makes you the happiest.
People should treat me the way I treat them
Getting rid of the shoulds we have for other people will also free us from unwanted stress because we can’t control what people say or do, but we can control getting upset about other people’s behaviors. People will never know if we’re mad at them, but we’ll know because our well being will suffer.
Keep the shoulds you want and get rid of the one’s you don’t want
I should exercise more
If you think you should exercise more and you actually want to, then make a plan with 2-3 steps to make sure it happens.
8. Always Be Right
Perfectionists particularly struggle with this one because we often believe that we must be right, correct, or accurate, at all costs. Being wrong is absolutely unacceptable and we’ll do whatever it takes to prove that we are right instead of agreeing to disagree or admitting that we’re wrong.
Since we were born, we’ve learned to fight for what we want, defend ourselves, or convince people that our views are right. We do it with our families, at work, and with friends, but If we find out we are wrong, it somehow makes us feel defeated. Accepting a different opinion and admitting that we are wrong are signs of self-confidence and compassion, and this will improve our relationships.
You see yourself as the cause of some negative situation, which you were not responsible for.
This is the opposite of personalization where you take your attention off the actual problem and blame others for the situation.
Believing that something is far worse than it actually is – making a mountain out of a mole hill will stress you out. Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% how you react toward it, but we can learn to change our attitudes and not sweat the small stuff – because it’s all small stuff.
These Distortions Actually Have A Name And A Definition!
We can change irrational ways of thinking. There are actual terms and definitions for these distortions and it helped me see that I did this because I had an anxiety disorder – not because it is “just the way I am.” Changing the way we think will help us overcome our anxiety and depression and increase our confidence and self-esteem.
Laugh At Yourself
When we’re anxious we can’t laugh at ourselves because we are always trying to be in control, and never want to be judged. It’s a relief when you can make silly mistakes and actually find them funny.
I “Lost” My Car
One time I met my husband for dinner. I drove home with him, forgetting that my car was still in the parking lot. The next day I panicked because, ” Someone stole my car”! A family member thought it was hysterical, but I was anxious at the time, mad that I could be so forgetful and I was the subject of all the laughing. Thankfully, with my changed attitude I still think it’s funny. It’s better to make fun of all our ‘mishaps’ because, we can’t change what’s already done. Laughing is way better than getting mad.
Life is more fun with a good attitude and less negative thinking because most things aren’t worth getting upset about anyway.
What funny thing that happened to you that you are brave enough to share?