Last Friday I launched a 21-Day Journaling challenge to help you start the New Year off right and to get to the bottom of some of the negative thoughts that interfere with your life. I hope you’re making some good discoveries, but if not, it’s still early in the challenge. I think you’ll find if you stick with it a few more days, that’s where you’ll gain some momentum.
Since we’re in the middle of the 21-Day Journaling Challenge, I wanted to talk about cognitive distortions. These words are very familiar in the counseling world and are used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. An oversimplification of CBT therapy is teaching people to, “think about their thinking.” While that sounds easy enough, it’s not. I talk a lot about how the brain is like water, “it goes the path of least resistance.” This means that once a pathway is opened in your brain, your brain will take that pathway again and again because it’s the easiest. Once you teach your brain a new way to think (the 21 Day Journal Challenge is a great way to do this!) that new pathway will be the one your brain takes. The tricky part of all of this is that it takes time and intention to create this new pathway. Unfortunately, new pathways in our brain can open up immediately when something bad happens. That’s why we can easily remember those times in our past when people called us names or something traumatic happened-the pathway for that event opened up immediately.
One more thing before we move on, we don’t actually get a choice in what our brains (nervous systems) register as bad events or traumatic events. That’s why I always encourage people not to compare their journey with someone else’s-their brain and nervous system interact with the world in a unique way.
I think all of this is helpful information as you begin to think about your own thinking through the 21-Day Journaling Challenge. I also think understanding cognitive distortions a little better will also be helpful. Here are a few of the most common ones I see in therapy sessions. These are especially present in highly sensitive individuals. I won’t be able to highlight all of them in this post but will try to talk about many of them throughout this month.
Should or Must
In this type of thinking people use should or must statements to put unreasonable demands on a situation which can make them feel like they failed. Often people feel worried and scared when they use this pattern of thinking. This can even keep paralyzed from doing the things that might help them get better. I see this type of thinking most often in people who struggle with perfectionism. Often when people use the phrase, “I should have…” I will say, “Why? Who made that rule up?” It’s a good question to ask when you struggle with this type of negative thinking. Most highly sensitive people, perfectionists, and professionals struggle with this type of thinking and it can lead them feeling stuck and unmotivated. Being able to understand that you have permission not to get everything right all of the time. I heard Ross Greene, psychologist, say a seminar one time, “People are doing the best they can and they can always do better.” I think there is a lot of freedom in that statement for perfectionists!
Black & White Thinking OR All or Nothing Thinking
In this type of thinking, people focus on a situation as all negative or all positive and have difficulty thinking about the “gray” areas of a situation. For example, if you’re having a fight with a loved one, you may immediately think that it was all your fault and you’re a bad person. Or you might have some difficulties at work and think that the good outweighs the bad that is happening. The danger in this thinking is that you may stay in a situation or relationship that is toxic because you’re not seeing the whole picture. You may also go into a cycle of shame and guilt of not being able to “fix” the situation because you believe you are solely responsible for what is happening. Being able to see situations with the good and bad can be helpful in freeing you from toxic thoughts, feelings and situations much quicker.
Just World or Fairy Tale Thinking
In this type of thinking people believe that if you do good things, good things will happen. While there is some truth in making wise choices again and again, and it does usually lead to good things happening. The danger in this is type of thinking is that you may begin to develop a worldview of, “why do bad things happen to me?” This type of thinking can lead to depression and ruminating thoughts. Being able to understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes bad things happen to people even when they do the right thing can be a more helpful way of thinking.
If you struggle with any of these cognitive distortions, join us for the 21-Day Journaling Challenge. Grab your free copy here and start today.
I hope this explanation of cognitive distortions will help you understand your negative thoughts and rewire your brain. If you need more help understanding the HSP trait, please feel free to contact me at 317.496.0456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to hear what is happening and help you find the right fit for counseling. If you are looking for help with depression, anxiety, trauma or behavioral concerns, you can read more about how I can help at my website peacefamilycounseling.com