Last week, we met Fred. What a pain in the ass. He’s making us miserable because he’s obnoxious and aggressive. He’s embarrassed us and lashed out.
We explored the concept of cognitive distortions. Oh that moment where our brain tricks us into thinking something is actually true. By exploring our reactions to Fred, we examined: filtering, personalization, overgeneralizations, catastrophizing and shoulds. None of these thought patterns serve us, yet they are so easy to trap us. Without even realizing it.
So let’s keep digging into this, because I promised you several more goodies.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS Without Fred saying so, we think we know what Fred is feeling and thinking — and exactly why he acts the way he does. For example, we may believe that Fred holds a grudge against us, because he received less budget money than we did last year. We conclude this, but don’t bother to find out if this is true or not.
BLAMING When we engage in blaming, we hold other people responsible for our emotional pain. For example, we blame Fred for making us feel bad. However, no one can “make” us feel anything. We control our thoughts and emotions. We are choosing our emotions, by our negative thoughts about Fred.
EMOTIONAL REASONING The distortion of emotional reasoning can be summed up by the statement, “If I feel that way, it must be true.” Whatever we feel is believed to be true automatically and unconditionally. In emotional reasoning, our emotions overrule our logic, our rational thoughts and our ability to reason.
FALLACY OF CHANGE In the fallacy of change, we expect that other people will change to meet our needs (this is our manual) if we influence, pressure or coax them to change. We believe that we’ll be happier if the change occurs. This is particularly true in our relationships with others. If only I can help Fred to become less aggressive in his communication, I will/would have a great relationship with him.
POLARIZED THINKING/BLACK & WHITE In polarized thinking, there are two options. It’s either “black-or-white.” We have to manage and change Fred, or our professional life will be miserable. Fred goes or we go. When our thinking is polarized we don’t see the nuances in the situation, and we don’t see the many options available to us in solving problems. The extremes limit our options and our effectiveness.
To lead your brain, rather than your brain leading you:
1. Be self aware. Pay attention to negative feelings; connect to the present, what do you feel and why?
2. Uncover the negative thought. Thoughts precede emotions, so pay attention to how you are labelling the situation (i.e., label the distortion, or if you cannot tell the story to someone else, and have them help you to label it).
3. Find the evidence; uncover the facts in the situation. Be aware of how your opinions, assumptions, shoulds, speculations, or generalizations are affecting how you are seeing the situation. Focus on the facts.
4. See the situation from the other person’s point of view. Why would they be acting the way they are? How can you see the situation from a different perspective? And, how are you contributing to the situation?
5. As you examine your thoughts, are they rational or not? If not, reframe them. If they are rational, work through the emotion. Feel the feelings. Feelings won’t hurt you.
Distortion explanations by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.