I know I’m a pessimist by nature. And, sure, my negative thoughts do overwhelm me from time to time. But it wasn’t until someone laid it out with neat little section headings that I realized just how messed up my thinking really was. As Dennis put it, “10/10.” These are all true of me (from Everyday Health):
All or nothing. If you don’t perform flawlessly, you consider yourself a complete failure. (This one actually goes much further than this simple statement—more on that in another post.)
Overgeneralization One negative event, such as a slight from your spouse or an encounter with a dishonest merchant, fits into an endless pattern of dismaying circumstances and defeat. For example, you might think, “He’s always cold” or “You can’t trust anyone.”
Mental filter. One negative episode, such as a rude comment made to you during an otherwise enjoyable evening, shades everything like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water.
Ignoring the positive. Positive input, such as an affectionate gesture or outright praise, just doesn’t count. Self-deprecation deflects all compliments. You might say, “It’s no big deal.”
Leaping to conclusions. You draw negative conclusions without checking to see if they have any foundation in fact. You may be mind reading: “My friend seems upset, she must be mad at me.” Or you may be fortune telling: “I just know the results of my medical test won’t be good.”
Magnification or minimization. You exaggerate potential problems or mistakes until they snowball into a catastrophe. Or you minimize anything that might make you feel good, such as appreciation for a kind act you did or the recognition that other people have flaws, too.
Emotional reasoning. You feel sure that your negative, emotional view of a situation reflects hard and fast truth. For example: “My husband drops his socks on the floor just to aggravate me.”
“Should” statements. You adhere to a rigid set of beliefs and internal rules about what you “should” be doing and feel guilty when you don’t stay the course.
Labeling. Rather than describe a mistake or challenge in your life, you label yourself negatively: “I’m a screw-up.” When another person’s behavior bothers you, you pin a global label on him or her: “She’s so controlling.”
Personalization. You blame yourself for triggering a negative event that occurred for complex reasons or for something that was largely out of your control. “If I had taken care of myself properly, I never would have gotten cancer.”
Phew. That definitely took me back to eleventh-grade psychology class.
Let’s not get too down about this, people. Even in my first handful of sessions with the therapist, we’ve identified many of these issues and started trying to pin down the sources behind them. I’ve been overanalyzing my own emotions and thoughts for years and yet, somehow, we’re looking under rocks and peering into shadows I’d never even noticed before. It’s pretty fascinating.
I can already look back on the life I used to lead and see how much improved I am today over my former self, drowning in paranoia, anxiety, fear. It’s still there, and sometimes the current is too strong for me, but I’m seeking help now, which is sort of like having a built-in life preserver that bobs up to the surface when I need it. Whether it’s the sessions themselves, the exercises I’m assigned or the mere knowledge that I’m working through the issues—whatever it is, it’s something to which I can cling in the choppiest waves. I’ve escaped the undertow thus far. I plan to stay afloat.
Also, did I mention I went to a Passover Seder tonight and got a little tipsy on red wine? No? Drat. I’ll have to write about that another night. I do find it a little funny, not writing about every single little thing I do. Normally, I have so little going on, every activity or outing seems noteworthy. But this week, there’s something every minute of every day, and absolutely no spare minutes to write about those other minutes, which means you don’t get the minutes of the minutes, and then… goodnight. =)