Question: So I have been working on not assuming like you recommended last month; what other thinking errors should I be on the look out for?
Answer: Last month we covered a few thinking errors, and it is now time to look at more. Examining the thinking errors definitely got our readers thinking, and as a result we got lots of good feedback. Jumping right in….
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking. This is also known as black and white thinking, which is thinking in absolute terms like “always”, “never”, or “every”. Although there is a time for absolutes (we should always look both ways before crossing the street), typically speaking this way of thinking does not serve us well in a gray world. Most of our lives, including relationships, do not fit neatly into the black or white category. All-or-nothing thinking is typically not accurate, either. For instance, if I say that my husband NEVER picks his socks up off the floor, this means there has not been even one time where he has. It is much more accurate to say “much of the time” instead of “always”. Nothing is 100%, all of the time. If our behavior falls short of perfect, we then jump to the absolute that we are a total failure.
Ways to beat this: Ask yourself, “Has there ever been a time when it was NOT that way?” (Has my husband ever picked up his socks in our 9 years of marriage?) If an exception can be found, it no longer supports the all or nothing thinking. Do a reality check. If one person at work is upset with me, does that mean that EVERYONE is? What evidence supports that?
2. Personalization and Blame. This is a biggie, and is very common. Personalization is when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that is not entirely under your control. For example, “My husband had an affair, I must be a horrible wife”, or “I wasn’t hired for the job, so I must do dismal in interviews”. In these situations, you own 100% of the situation, rather than a piece. Personalization leads to shame, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy. However, on the flip side is blame. This is where someone solely blames someone else for their problems or circumstances, rather than looking at the ways their own behavior is involved. For example, “My marriage is only on the rocks because my spouse is so messed up”.
Ways to challenge: Ask yourself, “Realistically how much of this problem is my responsibility?” Is it realistic to think I have that much power to hold 100%, or that someone else does? (See how this links to absolutes…) Also ask yourself what is within your control, and what is not. Only put your mental energy into fixing what is within your control to change.
3. Throwing out the Positive. This is pretty self-explanatory. We all know that person who no matter how many positive things you point out to them, they will find and fixate on the negative. This is “the glass is half negative” type, who typically also can’t accept compliments. By shooting down the positive, they are able to maintain their defeated stance that their world is miserable and they are a victim of it.
Ways to challenge: Begin to look at the positives with an open mind. Start each day by identifying 2-3 positives, or things you are thankful for. This starts the day on a positive note. Accept compliments; say thank you rather than disregarding them. Identify personal strengths and accomplishments. Putting these in writing seems to make them stick even more.
It is wise to check in with our thinking often, as these errors can creep in, start small, and before we know it they are big enough to do some real damage. Happy, realistic thinking to you all!
Chantelle K. Dockter, MA, LPC
Associate therapist of CCCOW, CCCOW.org