We all have those moments in relationships where we wonder if we’re crazy or if it’s our partner, right? One common problem in many relationships is our thinking and expectations of our partners can become distorted or problematic. Sometimes the way we think about ourselves interferes with our ability to even find a good relationship partner. Below are 10 common ways our thinking in relationships can become “twisted” and hold us back from happy and fulfilling relationships.
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
You see everything as black or white. There are no shades of gray with this type of thinking. This lead to fault finding with our partners or unnecessary guilt about ourselves. When we think in all-or-nothing terms we often make mistakes and automatically think, “Because I messed up, I am a total failure.”
You assume that because something bad happened once, it’s bound to happen again and again. For example, if you get rejected for a date, you assume that every time you ask someone on a date from here on out, they’ll say no just because it happened that one time.
3. Mental Filter
Here, you pay attention to a negative detail about something and focus exclusively on that detail so that the entire situation becomes negative in your mind. For example, If you received a 95/100 on an exam in college, even though this might have been the highest score in the class, you focus on the 5 questions you missed and berate yourself for being “so stupid”, causing you to feel hopeless about your academic future.
4. Disqualifying the positive
Along the same lines, when you disqualify the positive, you never accept that anything good is happening to you. Your mind filters out the positive moments and you discount them in one way or another. For example, if your partner gives you a sincere compliment, you might think, “They’re just pitying me because I look pathetic.”
5. Jumping to Conclusions
We call this “mind-reading” and the “fortune-teller error”. Mind reading is when you assume you know the intentions behind someone’s actions, or you assume you know what someone is thinking (and it’s usually negative). The problem with this is it leads you to respond defensively and/or withdraw from people which creates more negative interactions, causing a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. The fortune-teller error happens when you assume you know that something bad is going to happen. Most of the time, these negative expectations are unrealistic, but they can cause pessimism and hopelessness, which leads to depression.
6. Magnification and Minimization
When you look at one mistake you made and catastrophize it so it becomes the worst thing you could have possibly done, that’s magnification. Minimization, on the other hand, is when you look at your strengths and make them small and insignificant. By continuing to magnify the bad and minimize the good, you condemn yourself to constantly feel insecure and inferior!
7. Emotional Reasoning
Here, you take your emotions for truth. So if you feel sad or hopeless, you assume that things really are terrible and hopeless, even if they are, in fact, hopeful and happy. Emotional reasoning is at the root of most procrastination because you tell yourself you don’t feel like cleaning your house, so you convince yourself that it truly must be best to not to do it.
8. Should Statements
Your main source of motivation is telling yourself that you “should” do this or that. Instead of this motivating you to move forward, however, you feel guilty when you don’t live up to these “should” statements and this makes you apathetic and unmotivated. You could also be directing should statements toward others by expecting them to behave a certain way. When they don’t live up to your expectations, you become frustrated and resentful, which takes a lot of energy on your part to keep up.
9. Labeling and Mislabeling
Labeling yourself is an extreme form of overgeneralization. When you make a mistake, you say something to the effect of, “I’m a pathetic loser”, instead of, “I made a mistake”. Labeling others can cause you to feel hostile towards them because they’ve become a certain type of person in your mind and nothing they do will ever change that label for you. For example, if you know someone who was snyde to you once, you might have labeled them as a snobbish, rude, and insensitive person, when in reality they might have just been having a rough day. Just because they were rude once doesn’t mean they are destined to always be rude to everyone around them. But when you label them as such, you see everything they do through the lens of “they’re so rude!”
This is where we run into the problem with guilt. When you personalize, you take responsibility for negative events even when they’re not your fault. For example, if a teacher has a student who fails his state standardized tests, she might feel that his failing is her fault for being a bad teacher. In reality, she can only influence her students, not control what they do. In the end, the choice is up to them how they want to act.
Written By: Erin
For more details about these cognitive distortions and how to combat them, see Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns.