Yesterday I outlined some of the common types of cognitive distortions. It’s one thing to know about them, but actually recognizing them in ourselves can be a lot harder to do. It’s all well and good to try to look for evidence against a possibly distorted thought, but what if there is a preponderance of evidence that actually supports the negative thoughts? It’s taken quite a bit of time and reflection to see many my own cognitive distortions for what they are, and understand that even though there may have been some truth underlying some of these thoughts, my mind then grabbed hold and ran off in a distorted direction. Warning: I don’t have a good synonym for the word shit, so that word is used very liberally.
Always being right: For the most part I don’t do this when I’m depressed, but when it comes to things to do with my treatment I get very rigidly convinced that what I think is right. During one hospitalization I was adamant that I was not going to have ECT. It was stupid, because ECT is helpful for me, but I wasn’t budging; I was always right about what treatment I should have, and the doctor was just plain wrong.
Black and white thinking: I do this the most in evaluating whether people are safe or unsafe, trustworthy or untrustworthy. Most people get quickly shuffled into the unsafe/untrustworthy category.
Catastrophizing: I expect that small shit is going to turn into big shit. Not an if but a when. A big factor in this is that there have been multiple occasions in the relatively recent past when what should have been small shit did in fact turn into big shit, so it’s easy to tell myself that no, this isn’t distorted thinking, it’s being realistic. I’ve done a lot of drowning in shitstorms in the last while, so why shouldn’t I expect it? Throw me a life raft already! The reality, though, is that probably most small shit will stay small most of the time.
Disqualifying the positive: When I’m unwell, the thinking might go: “So I had a decent minute/hour/day… what difference does it make, everything is still just as shitty overall.” As I start to get a little better, the thinking takes a bit of a turn and it’s more having a hard time trusting that the positive truly is positive rather than just shit in disguise.
Filtering: I’ll focus on the downpour of negativity, and think that I must have been walking around in a bubble in the past that made me oblivious to the permanent negative downpour. When in reality it’s probably more like a cartoon character walking around with a little raincloud temporarily following along above his head, and all the while the sun is shining everywhere else.
Emotional reasoning: The biggest one for me right now is that I feel unloved by my parents, therefore they must not love me. I know intellectually that this isn’t true, but I still really struggle with it.
Fallacy of fairness: I have a pretty strong sense of ethics and justice and all that crap, and I tend to assume that everyone else should have the same. Where I seem to get most caught up in the fallacy of fairness is expecting fairness from people who I don’t have a close personal relationship with. I guess somehow I expect that distance=objectivity=fairness. Except the world doesn’t work that way.
Fallacy of control: When I’m depressed I often feel like I have no control over what’s happening to me, and it can be hard to tease apart that a) maybe I do have limited control over what happens around me, and b) maybe I do have limited control over my illness given that it’s not always that responsive to treatment, but c) somewhere in all of that there are still elements of my reactions and choices that I do have control over.
Fortune telling: So much shit has happened before, my automatic expectation is that the future will follow along in the same direction as the past. I even run over mock conversations on replay in my mind of some shitty event that I’m imagining will happen.
Mind reading: I must admit, I tend to do this at the best of times, but more so when I’m feeling vulnerable. A recent recurring theme: “I haven’t heard from X today. It must be because X is sick of talking to me and doesn’t want to deal with me any more.”
Overgeneralization: “I hate people” is something I say probably more often than I should. I have encountered a plethora of stupid and shitty people in my real life, and I’ve expanded that outwards to include pretty much everyone in a 50km radius. Ok, so maybe I need to admit it’s an overgeneralization to say I hate all people, but if I tone it down to “I hate most people” then perhaps I’m no longer overgeneralizing…
Personalization: I think I do this more at work, and it tends to go hand in hand with catastrophizing. I’ll read a team email and be convinced that the message is actually directed at me, and then all of a sudden I’m thinking damn, they’re going to fire me, or do this or that to me… There have been work situations before when things were not-so-subtly directed at me, so it can be hard to convince myself that it’s not reasonable to expect that to keep happening all the time.
The last time I tried seeing a therapist, she wanted to do CBT with me, and I remember very clearly thinking that I didn’t have cognitive distortions; my negative cognitions were based in reality. I think that for me personally I’m just not receptive to CBT when I’m at my lowest with my depression. It’s really just in the last couple of months that I’ve been gradually feeling somewhat better and mentally flexible enough to be able to work on gaining insight into these thought patterns. It’s an ongoing project that involves finding a balance between challenging the distorted thinking and validating the thoughts, emotions, and experiences that gave rise to those distortions. Blogging and journalling have been an important part of that.
What are some of your major stumbling blocks?
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