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Cognitive Distortions

I may be on my sixth therapist but who’s counting. I love that light feeling I used to get when I was walking out of the office after the appointment. Like I’d just been too confessional. Thing always felt more hopeful, even if they really weren’t.

Late last year, my then therapy gal told me she’d gotten a job in the big city and we were breaking up. She was really sweet and I hated to see her go but I knew I’d been sliding and gliding with her. I had done my work but I knew there was bigger work to be done and I needed bigger guns to do it.

Enter my new therapist Kathleen who is keenly aware of what I need to do to move myself on. And she gave me some feedback this week that smarted. Because sometimes I need compliments and sometimes I need truth. And I need new materials to mentally devour that aid in my processing.hello kitty pool 2 on Shalavee.com

Seems strange but in all my reading and studying up on self-help stuff, I apparently never studied cognitive therapy. Quick summation of this technique/concept: If you’re depressed, it means you’re having sad thoughts. And these give you sad feelings. And more often than not, those first thoughts you had are based on some illogical distortions that you have used to process your life since forever. When the bad feelings “validate” the bad thoughts, you are full circle. Your original feeling must be truth. Makes sense in the moment.

What if the first thought includes an “always” statement or a “never” statement. Like “I always lose” and “I’ll never win”. These are probably not truths but there you go basing your feelings on that self-fed misinformation over and over and over. A pattern has formed in my life that has so ensconced “never” and “always”  in my psychic garden that I’m having a tough time pulling them out.

As outlined in David D. Burns, MD’s book Feeling Good The New Mood Therapy, there are 10 “cognitive distortions” us thinkers use regularly and I spoke about them in Summer’s Stutter Start. Like the 20 something fallacies I had to learn in my college Logic class, they’re like equations that once you’ve become familiar with them, you can recognize them again when they’re laid out. And you can either choose to believe them again or call them out for the phonies that they are.hello kitty pool 3 on Shalavee.com

My most popular distortion recently seems to be over-generalization where I see something bad happening and then assume it will always be like that. Three weeks ago, Fiona got sick. Her schedule was thrown off, she was clingy, waking up all night, and generally life wasn’t much fun. The next week, I believe she was getting her molars in. Another week of not quite rightness and I could only expect that the rest of my life with this child was going to ridiculously hard and exhausting.

Those thoughts stressed me out and my eye twitch returned for an encore jiggity-jig. And then the following week, she’s lovely. She’s talking and playing on her own and napping. And I think, “Hey wasn’t she supposed to be terrible for the rest of our lives? “. This isn’t the first time I’ve concluded another distortion called Catastophrization. Or how about The Fortune Teller Error as in “I can see that it will always turn out badly”. Why try right?

So here I am really starting to realize that my thought processes are a little hinky when my therapist, with mere seconds on the clock before her alarm sounds, gives me this :

I tend to look for things I know I’ll fall short on instead of giving myself credit for my accomplishments.

I had to write that one down. Then I felt sad. That seems like such a mean thing to do to somebody. If this was my daughter, wouldn’t I praise her efforts and her accomplishments? Wouldn’t I smooth over the crappy stuff and help her focus on the hopeful skill building fun future stuff? Yuck. hello kitty pool fun from Shalavee.com

From an article written by Alice Boyes, PhD on the Psychology Today blog, a little overview of Cognitive Distortions and Overcoming Catastrophizing. ( An even better and pretty comprehensive one by her titled 50 Common Cognitive Distortions is here.)

– Mindful awareness –You have to catch yourself having cognitive distortions to be able to do anything about them,

– Consider Other Possible Outcomes
Consider positive predictions, neutral predictions, and mildly negative predictions, not just very negative predictions.

– Make a Distinction Between Significantly Unpleasant and Catastrophe
Key to overcoming catastrophizing is making a distinction between something being significantly unpleasant and it being a catastrophe. Failing an important exam would be extremely distressing but it does not doom the person to a life of failure.

– Increase your perception of your ability to cope.
If you believe you can cope with negative events, anxiety will be much less of a problem for you ”

That last one is about self-efficacy. I am in dour need of upping my self-efficacy. I’ll be studying my cheat sheet of cognitive distortions to help my mind learning along and shove the happy life hot air balloon higher up into the sky.

And for your clarity, you can contract with a therapist for a specific amount of time with certain goals in mind. They make an action plan or a “treatment plan” with an end date on it. My plans are to work on seeing my potential and build my esteem around my writing and blogging. I can imagine many people don’t want to start therapy because it seems endless. There is another way. Doable chunks.

Let me know what you think about any or all of this. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

If you can’t tell, I don’t mind talking honestly.

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And, as always, Thanks to you for your visit.

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6 Responses to “Cognitive Distortions”

  1. donna says:

    My go-to ways of reducing my worry factor (chronic worriers, raise your hands!) are these: 1. asking myself what’s *really* behind the curtain of the present anxiety, and 2. reminding myself that all worrying must take place only between 8:30-9:00 p.m. It’s a great tactic. 99% of the time, I forget what it was I wanted to worry about earlier in the day. The deferment gives the issue time to work itself out, or at least lessen simply because I’m not giving it the attention it needs to become a catastrophic thought. This has proven super effective at depriving worries of the energy they need to grow.

    • Shalagh says:

      That’s something I read about in college. I had gastritis which is pre-ulcerous tummy owieness. I was reading like a Glamour magazine and it said to designate a worry chair. And that every time you became anxious, you were to write it down and wait until you sat in the chair to worry about.Love that concept. I feel that our brains are pretty sneaky and insidious about ways we know to survive and some of these are as comfortable as bedroom slippers and we don’t even see them as destructive. We see them as “normal”. Treatable by a glass of wine and a good cry. And they can be way worse than that. Journaling always helps me too. Thanks for taking the time to comment as it means an incredible amount to me.
      Love,
      Shalagh

  2. Kira Elliott says:

    So I was reading this post as I was waiting for my therapist to arrive for my appointment. I hate to admit it but I have been seeing her for about 13 years now. I have seen others too for other specific issues but she is my rock solid and never lets me coast but then again, I tend to need more compassion and reminders to do less. I can so relate to the distortions in thinking. Over the years I have learned how to spot when I am involved in that type of thinking. Starting a meditation practice took this work to a new level for me. It increased my awareness and my self-compassion because these distortions seems to be my default mode of thinking.

    • Shalagh says:

      Kira,
      First, thank you so very much for saying this because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the admission that we need help with our coping mechanisms. And why would asking for help be a bad or shameful thing? Yes, I do think your description of distortions as a default way of thinking is spot on. We recreate what we know even if that which we recreate is upsetting or unhealthy. Familiarity reigns and thus is the default.
      So here’s to being in therapy for the rest of our lives if that’s what it takes. Therapists have to earn a living after all.
      Love,
      Shalagh

  3. Shannon says:

    I try to remind myself of something I saw a few months ago (and included in my art journal): There is a difference between tragedy and burnt toast. But those darned alwayses and nevers do haunt on some things.

    • Shalagh says:

      Oh yes Shannon, the pulling in the perspective is the key. But what if you’re addicted to the feeling you get when you are convinced it’s tragedy. Or how special you are because your life is always tragic and it’s never just burnt toast, even if it is. It takes such perspective to see you don’t need tragedy to define your worth. And that you are good with the toast. Or is that just me.

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