DO YOUR THOUGHTS LET YOU DOWN - AND MAKE YOU WORRY?
Dee Chadwick
28 Nov 2021
If they do, you could well be allowing cognitive distortion to adversely affect them and therefore you as a whole. Basically it is your mind telling you fibs, or sometimes out and out whopping great big lies! They become an integral part of your self-talk and you are convinced of their truth ... and you worry.

PART OF A CONTINUUM

Many of us make use of self-fibs in order to allow us to get away with things – maybe by saying that having that piece of cake you really fancy won’t put on any weight; by spending an extra hour in bed, you will still be able to get all of the day’s allotted tasks completed on time. We know that we are probably kidding ourselves, but with the fibs not being used all the time, we can ignore them, accepting that being ‘good’ all the time is probably just plain boring! Well, that’s my reason for allowing myself the occasional indulgence of such excuses. In fact, that is what they are. I am ignoring the ‘good Dee’ who is telling me not to have the cake, or to get up and get on. ‘Little devil Dee’ is being allowed to over-rule on occasion, whilst I remain fully aware of the truth! I guess most of us have our own little devil moments when we bend our own truth.

A once believed message from childhood comes to mind. That ambulances with blues and two’s on are taking a mum-to-be to hospital as her baby is on its way. Even though the adult me knows this to be well removed from the truth, I often still say it to myself when I see an emergency ambulance. Simultaneously, I send positivity to the occupants – both patient and paramedics – for a positive outcome. Very much tying in childhood messages which can still make me smile and my adult belief systems.

However, what if this truth bending was to become our default setting? Then, it has become a whole different ball game, especially if used to back up other negative self-messages. We believe our own press. The untrue thoughts are totally accurate to us; our truth is well and truly bent,enabling us to proverbially beat ourselves up with that big stick which we carry around. We surround ourselves with a false cloud of negative emotions backed up by our negative thoughts. This is the opposite end of the continuum to the cake and lie-in scenarios. For many, their truth bending will fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

BEING AWARE IS THAT IMPORTANT FIRST STEP

Just as I am aware that I am telling myself a complete porkie if my will power falls short when faced with a piece of cake, so that awareness is important in the process of change at the further end of the continuum. Otherwise, it’s down to my well used phrase …‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’

The pattern of thinking has become your automatic default setting. From a simple ‘does my bum look big in this’, through to ‘my bum looks huge in this – and the rest of me looks gross too’, all the way to ‘I look gross in whatever I wear, and always will do’. In this particular case Body Dismorphia has taken over, though this is an issue for a future blog.

WHAT TYPES OF TRUTH BENDING ARE THERE?

Often these can present en masse, or at least with a truth bending buddy.

Making assumptions. Jumping to conclusions based on scant, if any evidence. The conclusion reached then becoming your reality. These assumptions usually focus on negative outcomes simultaneously assuming that anything positive will not happen.

Over generalising. For example, if one person dislikes you, this is very readily converted to everyone, and their dog, disliking you. The words ‘never’ and ‘always’ are thrown in with regular monotony to back up such claims. As part of this, there is an exaggeration, a magnification of negative aspects of self and simultaneously minimizing of any good qualities or any positivity. This scenario leads to feelings of inadequacy and of being unappreciated by others – even if they had, in fact, attempted to insert positivity!

Inflexibility of thinking – all or nothing, black and white thinking. An inability to see the ‘ok’ bits of a situation, rather focusing on one particular part that wasn’t good. Maybe a trip out had seen a heavy shower of rain. This would translate to the whole trip being spoiled – ignoring that the rest of the trip had been good, with puddles easily by-passed and the time of the shower being spent having a lovely coffee and cake! The inflexibility becomes a frequent cause of overreaction, especially to what is perceived as a situation involving any degree of stress. Any positives are totally ignored or dismissed.

Personalisation. The taking of blame for events outside of their control. I have to say that I have worked with clients who have amazed me with their ability to claim the blame for happenings to which they don’t have even the most tenuous of links.

Mind reading/Fortune telling. Assuming the thoughts of others with little or no evidence on which to base this. Conclusions are very readily jumped to. A lack of evidence doesn’t prevent a presumption of a bad outcome to a future situation – gloom and doom easily rules.

Should have (or even worse for me – should of!!–I guess, once a teacher, always a teacher). ‘Must’, ‘ought’ or ‘have to’ provide alternatives to should. These words, when frequently used are as a result of a very self-judgmental, negative spin being put on things. I should have done better in my exam; I should have seen that coming; I should have finished that job by now. They can lead to feelings of frustration and guilt due to not attaining what ‘should’ have been attained. If the shoulds are directed towards others, the result can be feelings of being let down by them and frustration can set in. Should can providea false motivation. Back to cake again – if used too often, ‘I shouldn’t eat that piece of cake’can lead to that little devil taking over. Instead, a quick – ‘I won’t eat that cake’ brooks no challenge and the little devil is put in its place.

A further spin on should is what is sometimes referred to as ‘Magical Thinking’ where unrelated situations are influenced by its use eg ‘I am a caring person – so bad things shouldn’t happen to me.’As Dr Albert Ellis called it – ‘musterbation’. I have included a link as it gives a good example and I just couldn’t resist the title – ‘Musturbation – stop rubbing yourself the wrong way.’!

Yes, many of us will use shoulds, woulds and coulds, as there will be things that we may have been able to do differently. It is only when consistently usedthat the distortion has set in.

Catastrophising. Seeing nothing other than the worst outcome. If a friend doesn’t instantly message you back (good old social media here plays a part), then they don’t like you any more .. or downwards to they have had an accident, and are in hospital! The response that they are simply busy doesn’t even feature. The old mole hill and mountain syndrome. Catastrophising can also lead to ‘poor me’ patterns of thinking as nobody has been as bad as you, had as many things go wrong as you, had as much bad luck as you. 

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF DISTORTION

Most of the above thought patterns can lead to downward cascades of distorted patterns of thinking often involving self-blame and self-criticism.

The roots of the cognitive distortions can date back many years, even to childhood – as with my ambulances!! Though rather than because of a direct message, they can be as a result of a perfectionist parent, carer, teacher, authority figure, even partner; one with high expectations and demands; one who is overly critical.

The somewhat dubious ability to distort our way of thinking, our reality, has become automatic. We therefore need to listen to the advice of friends who may challenge us. We also need to cue in to any responses we give to compliments they may send our way – those instant rebuttals when told that we have done something well, look good, whatever – those yes buts! Bin them and allow yourself to smilingly accept the compliment. A beginning of putting things into a truer perspective, heading towards a more genuine reality. A cutting down of over-reaction which can, if left unchallenged, lead to the bottle of pop syndrome.

Instead, it is important to stop believing that everything you think is true. Your thoughts simply need to be challenged, and this is where things can get a bit difficult. They have probably been accepted as your truth for a long time, with any alternative suggestions been quickly batted off with those ‘yes buts’. However, once that is accepted, then the next step is to recognise that a thought CAN be challenged.  Then, next step? Coming up with more healthy alternatives. If this is a process which is proving difficult, the support of a therapist will help with recognising just what you are doing and identifying your thought patterns. For some people, it helps when they are able to recognise their reasons for making the distortions that they make.

WHAT CAN HELP WITH THIS?

If you keep a journal or a diary, use this to note any automatic thoughts. This is a task that becomes easier – especially once you have noted the automatic negative reasons you give yourself for being totally incapable of doing this task!

Look for any recurring patterns – are the distortions directed at your body, your abilities, your beliefs etc etc. Maybe use a coloured highlighter to help with this process. What are your triggers that may lead to distortion and overreaction – these may include control (needed by you or enforced by another), rejection, criticism, envy – all either actual or perceived.

Next, be totally honest with yourself and ask what purpose these thoughts have served.  You will probably recognise that many, if not all, are very negative. You may convince yourself that others are you simply being honest with yourself or with others – the reason that many give. Maybe you were taught not to boast, but over the years this has slipped to become a negative put down rather than acceptance of a compliment paid. You know what – it’s really ok to say that you did a job well, that you feel good – either to yourself, or shock horror – to someone else. Try it. You’ll find that the world doesn’t collapse around your ears and there’s no shaft of lightning heading your way.

Try taking a slow, deep breath before you reply or react. Use that breathing space for consideration of your response rather than your automatic distortion. Slow breathing, especially if you take four or five slow breaths also helps keep your body from clicking into flight or fight response and the associated increasing anxiety levels. The more calm you are, the more able you are to think rationally.

There’s always the possibility that friends have tried to correct your erroneous thinking, but have been batted off with a few ‘yes buts’ at which point, they probably gave up on trying to get you to see reality rather than your distorted truth. It very much becomes ‘it’s just how she or he is’ and can be a route to many friendships being short term.

If you struggle to break the distorting of your thoughts, support through therapy is highly recommended. There is always the possibility that a therapist will pick up how you distort your thoughts, if you attended for another problem. Your thinking is very much an integral part of this problem. This can include the afore mentioned BDD in which it features very heavily, but also depression, generalised anxiety, low self-esteem or self-confidence and being a worrier. This latter is the focus of next week’s blog.

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