Monday, December 03, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #1, All-or-Nothing Thinking

For my own personal reference while my library is in storage as our house is repaired, I'm listing David Burns' excellent list of cognitive distortions that often clutter the brains of all of us and make clear thinking more difficult.  Many thanks to Dr. Burns and his book, "Feeling Good, the New Mood Therapy" from which these ideas were taken.  After I finish this, I plan to post ideas for combating them.  

This first cognitive distortion, all-or-nothing thinking, occurs when you take one failure and translate it into total failure.

For example, you are unable to get your child to respond positively to your best efforts at getting him to exercise regularly.  You brain tells you, "I am such a failure as a parent."

Or, you surprise your spouse with an unexpected night out together and though the food is good the conversation is bland and you both are tired and you think, "I am such a loser at this whole marriage thing."

One failure immediately translates into complete failure.

All-or-nothing thinking, among other things, forms the basis of perfectionism.  It causes you to fear mistakes or imperfections because then you will see yourself as a complete loser, and you will feel inadequate and useless.

This way of evaluating things is unrealistic because life is rarely completely one way or the other.  For example, no one is absolutely brilliant or completely clumsy all of the time.  Every person, and every thing is a combination of excellent and average and not-so-good.  If you tend to push all of your experiences into absolute judgments you will be constantly discouraged and discredit yourself endlessly because no matter what, because of your God-given mortal state, you will never measure up to your exaggerated expectations of excellence.

You see everything as black or white.  If it's gray, it's black.  Thinking patterns like this leave little opportunity for recognition of progress or celebration of what is good as every black or gray experience blankets everything in black.

Recognizing this in yourself and teaching your brain to see your less-than-perfect experiences with the same kind of love, clarity, and encouragement and perspective that God does, rather than with the judgmentalism of a pharisee, is a major first step in overcoming this cognitive distortion.  And it helps your ability to do better and improve a zillion times more than does the blanket of black.

In my next post maybe I'll talk about ways to talk back to cognitive distortions with truth once you recognize them in your own head.

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