What is wrong with this title? If we think like this, we might feel rotten! So let’s break it down:
“Everyone” is an overgeneralization. “Must” is self criticizing and inspires guilt feelings. “Always” is another overgeneralization. “Bad” is an all-or-nothing term. “Or Else” is fortune-telling. And the whole sentence is considered “catastrophizing” or blowing things out of proportion. Most people don’t think all of these terms in one phrase, but many people think some of them often…
If you are working on being more positive, optimistic or in less of a funk, there are some simple tools you can use to accomplish this. The first step is to pay attention to the thoughts in your head and the things you say, try to recognize negative statements and turn them into positives. One common list of negative thought patterns in the world of psychology is called cognitive distortions. These were made famous by psychologists Aaron Beck and David Burns who taught that catching them and turning them into positives is called cognitive restructuring. More simply put, we are going to catch those negative thoughts and turn em around, catch em and turn em around, changing the bad habit of negative thinking. Here are the most common patterns to watch for.
Common Thoughts That Make Us Feel Worse
All-or-Nothing Thinking. Everyone is mad at me. Nothing will ever get better. It’s a complete loss. You always do this. I never get a break. Statements like this make us feel doom and gloom, like there is nothing we can do to change. This doom and dread increases anxiety and depression and escalates negative emotion. In addition, when you are having a discussion or argument with someone and you say they “never clean the house” they will defend themselves by saying the three times they did. By simply changing always, never, everyone, no one to terms that are not so doom filled, it will leave room for hope and change. even just replacing them with “most of the time,” “a lot of people” or “rarely ever” can decrease the level of angst in thoughts and conversations.
Labeling. I’m an idiot. I’m a failure. You’re bad. You’re a loser. Making a mistake is a behavior that can be changed. But by labeling one a failure because of an action implies it’s useless to try. Change this to focus on the behavior itself, like grrr I messed up. That insinuates things can be changed to improve.
Dwelling on Negatives. Your hair looks nice today. Ugh, but it’s a mess! Or in a situation where many things went well, focusing on the one part that didn’t. Take the time to pan back and look at the entire scenario. It may be true that some of it isn’t good, but why is that part any more important to focus on than the good that happened?
Mind Reading. Assuming what someone thinks, and usually assuming the worst. “I know what he’s thinking.” “You probably hate me now.” Not only do people assume what some else is thinking, they then act on it. This often happens in relationships where one partner assumes what the other has on his mind,and then gets mad at him for it, when he wasn’t even thinking that. This also comes up when people predict how others are judging them. While it may be true that some people are yes, judging you negatively, it’s not probable that all people are, and not likely you are correct in predicting since each person’s perception has more to do with their own experience than anything.
Shoulds and Fairness. People are often disappointed by others because they have an expectation of how things should be, and that it will be fair or just. Even though we were often told “Life isn’t fair,” we still hope it will be and can be surprised when it is not. I see this often with families, when people think because someone is related to them, they should care or treat them well. That would be ideal, but is often not the case. People also “should” themselves, criticizing themselves for not doing things they felt they should have, and then feeling more guilt than necessary. My answer to this topic is, who says? Who says you “have to” buy your aunt a birthday card? Who says you “should” attend the funeral of someone who was a jerk to you when they were alive? To turn this one around, create a mantra in your head that you can tell yourself every time you feel guilty, such as “I’m a grown up and I can do what I want,” or “I can choose to, but I don’t have to.”
Emotional Reasoning. If you wake up feeling down, depressed, anxious or guilty, there may be a reason for it. That reason might be that your blood sugar is low or you didn’t sleep well, you missed a med or you have PMS. But sometimes people feel something, then justify the feeling. I feel guilty, I must have done something wrong. I feel anxious, something bad is about to happen. In this instance, instead of environment triggering emotion, we have the emotion and try to ascribe a reason why. One young girl I knew would say she missed her deceased grandfather every time she felt sad. He had died 15 years earlier and she barely knew him, but she had no other idea what might be causing her sadness, so that must be it. Allowing yourself to consider other reasons for emotions (like biology) will help reduce this negative pattern.
Blowing Things Out of Proportion. Catastrophizing. It’s gonna be bad. I can’t deal with it. It’s too much. What if something bad happens? In our mind these things build and build and spiral and we get ourselves very worked up. Often the anticipation of something happening is worse than when it actually does. Assuming it will be the end of the world, when actually it might suck, but we will survive it. When you go through something difficult and survive, make a mental note of it for the next time you worry. And when you say “Oh no, what if that thing happens?” ask yourself, “what if it does? What will I do?” Because I think you will handle it better than you give yourself credit for in that moment.
Black and White Thinking. Things are either all good or all bad. Someone is your soul mate or your enemy. They love you or hate you. The movie sucked or it was fantastic. You did a good job or a horrible one. There is no middle ground. This is like the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Just because part of the situation or the project or the person is imperfect, that doesn’t mean all of it has to be. Look for the grey area, allow yourself to get comfortable with not having absolutes. Relationships are not all good or all bad. Neither are people, or jobs, or most things. But people find comfort in having it one way or another so they don’t have to second guess a decision. Work on trusting yourself to make the best of whatever the situation.
There are many more ways that we stress our brains and trigger our own emotions. Many more cognitive distortions not listed here. We can be our own worst enemy, but this is a behavior, a habit that can be changed with practice. It takes repetition to change, so don’t get upset with yourself when you hear yourself thinking these negative thoughts. Just catch them and turn them around each time, and it will get easier and a new habit will be formed. Or it won’t and the world will come crashing in and no one will ever be the same because you are a failure…. NOT! Now stop that. 🙂