Friday, October 26, 2012

Cognitive Distortion # 3, Mental Filter

Mental filtering is akin to "discounting the positive" (distortion #4).  Have you ever played a  game and missed a goal you were positioned well for and then kicked yourself mentally for days over that missed shot?  Or sung in a choir and come in loudly a measure too soon in one of the pieces and cringed for weeks afterwards as your mind reviewed it again and again?  Or served as a missionary for a couple of years and, like most young missionaries, made a couple of really bad cultural faux pas in the course of your mission that still come leaping back to the forefront of your mind every time you reflect on your time there?  Or made a presentation where most people responded positively but one person made a mild critique of it and you just can't stop feeling constantly awful about the thing he pointed out?  Or had a medical procedure that was painful and then healed and all you focus on is how horrible the pain was?  I know I have done some of those things.

When you have an experience that has a single negative detail and you dwell on and suffer over that one detail more than any other aspect of that experience you are doing mental filtering.  I do it sometimes. It's hard to get my mind off that one negative.  I think that's partly due to the fact that I, like many people, have grown up in a culture that teaches us to try to eliminate failures and mistakes in our lives, so we tend to notice and focus on them.  However, there is a difference between noticing a mistake enough to change and avoid making it again and focusing on that mistake and beating yourself up about it for days, weeks, months or years afterwards.  The former is being clear-eyed and on the road to improvement.  The latter is called identifying yourself by your errors.  

I think it's clear that identifying someone we know by her errors is one of the heights of disregard and cold-heartedness, that doing so makes it even harder for that person to have hope she can change or live an error down.  We know that for the vast majority of people, including you,  loving-kindness, not error-rehashing, is what enables them to change for the better.  But those of us who wouldn't dream of doing that error-rehashing to others often easily do it to ourselves.

1 comment:

BrieAnn said...

I've been enjoying your cognitive distortion series. I picked up David Burns's Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy from the library today and am looking forward to diving in.