Distorted thinking includes automatic, conclusive thoughts that are usually inaccurate. These can impact one’s relationships, daily moods, and self-perception.
So, how can you know if you’re experiencing distorted thinking? You probably experience it to a significant degree if you:
- Experience painful emotions on a regular basis. These might include regularly feeling nervous, sad, or angry.
- “Should” yourself. This happens when you are constantly self-critical, focusing on things you “should” have done or ways you “should” be better. This leaves you feeling disgusted with yourself.
- Can’t get rid of certain thoughts–usually worries. These concerns play in your head repeatedly, like a broken record. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to turn the volume down.
- Experience continual conflict with others. Distorted thinking may contribute to your feeling justified in conflict. You may also be forming an inaccurate narrative about others, which fuel your negative interactions with them.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, you’re probably wondering what to do about it. A good starting point is to take a step back and examine the faulty logic that is likely at the root of your distressing experience. A great way to do this is to think of alternative explanations that challenge your automatic thoughts.
For example, let’s say your partner comes home, let’s out a big sigh, and is clearly upset. You instantly think, “My partner is upset. He/she must be upset with me. I’ve done something to make him/her upset and need to fix it.” Can you recognize where the distorted thinking starts? It’s good that you recognize when you’re partner is upset, but automatically assuming that 1) he/she is upset with you 2) you’ve done something to upset him/her and 3) it’s up to you to make it better, are inaccurate assumptions.
So what are some possible, alternative explanations to this scenario? Let’s think of some. Maybe your partner got stuck in a traffic jam, wasn’t able to meet a deadline at work, spilled a drink on his/her shirt, isn’t feeling well, stubbed his/her toe, missed an important phone call, didn’t choose the right teams for March Madness, or just woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day.
I bet you could think of even more possibilities. Is it surprising how many explanations there are that have nothing to do with you?
The 2nd and 3rd distortions can also be tackled through a similar process of questioning assumptions. True, your actions may impact others, but ultimately, who is in charge of someone else’s happiness? That person! When you do something that “makes” someone upset, that person is choosing to react that way. Expecting yourself to control others’ reactions would require a god-like power that, odds are, you don’t have. In this same regard, if you can’t control how someone reacts to events or situations, then is it really fair for you to give yourself responsibility for making it right? That is a lot of control you’re expecting yourself to have.
In summary, if you find yourself falling victim to some unhealthy thinking patterns and want to take control, there are a few key tricks you can do to reroute your thinking:
1) Slow down and try to find the faulty part of seemingly clear logic.
2) Create alternative explanations for an event or situation, just like we practiced above.
3) Assess what is in your control, and what is out of your control. Remember, you can’t take responsibility for anyone’s emotional state except your own.
*For additional help:
- Refer to another blog post we’ve done entitled 10 Ways Your Thinking is Twisted
- Feeling good: The new mood therapy by David Burns
- When Panic Attacks: The new, drug-free anxiety therapy that can change your life by David Burns
- Take RELATE and see what areas of your relationship may be problematic due to faulty thinking.