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Challenging Faulty Thinking

When you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, observe what you are saying to yourself.  Might you be using any of the following ways of thinking?  If so, your thinking could be adding to your stress level, your anxiety, or your depression. Clicking on the distorted thinking style will take you to an example of how you might challenge your faulty thinking in order to change your mood.

  1. Filtering:  You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.
  2. Polarized Thinking:  Things are black or white, good or bad.  You have to be perfect or you're a failure.
  3. Overgeneralization:  You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence.  If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again.
  4. Mind Reading:  Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do.  In particular, you are able to foretell how people are feeling toward you.
  5. Catastrophizing:  You expect disaster.  You notice or hear about a problem and start "what ifs:"  "What if tragedy strikes?"  "What if it happens to you?"
  6. Personalization:  Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you.  You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who's smarter, better looking, etc.
  7. Control Fallacies:  If you feel extremely controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate.  The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you.
  8. Fallacy of Fairness:  You feel resentful because you think you know what's fair but other people won't agree with you.
  9. Blaming:  You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem or reversal.
  10. Shoulds:  You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act.  People who break the rules anger you, and you feel guilty if you violate the rules.
  11. Emotional Reasoning:  You believe that what you feel must be true automatically.  If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring.
  12. Fallacy of Change:  You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough.  You need to change people because your hopes for happines seem to depend entirely on them.
  13. Global Labeling:  You generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment.
  14. Being Right:  You are continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct.  Being wrong is unthinkable, and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness.
  15. Heaven's Reward Fallacy:  You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score.  You feel bitter when the reward doesn't come.

 

The ways you use to challenge your distorted thinking might include any of the following, which come from The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns:

  1. Identify and label the distortions in your thinking.
  2. Examine the evidence that what you are saying to yourself is really true.
  3. Double-standard method.  Ask yourself, "Would I say this to a friend?"
  4. Experimental technique.  Test whether your negative thought is really true.
  5. Thinking in shades of gray to challenge polarized thinking.
  6. Survey method.  Ask other people whether they believe your negative thought is valid.
  7. Define terms when you have labeled yourself and see if you always fit.
  8. Semantic method.  Change shoulds to preferences.
  9. Re-attribution.  Ask yourself, "What other factors may have contributed to this problem?"
  10. Cost-benefit analysis.  Compare the advantages and disadvantages of believing the negative thought.

Filtering.  You have a part-time job at a restaurant.  The manager is always on your case, not only about cleaning up, but also about getting orders right, even when a customer admits to having changed his/her mind.  It's also difficult when customers are rude and when you have to work longer hours because co-workers show up late for their shifts.  You sometimes worry that you are not measuring up to expectations and that the manager is ready to fire you.

Challenge: Examine the evidence that what you are saying to yourself is really true.  After you examine the evidence, you come to realize that the boss gets on everybody's case, that the boss recently thanked you for being reliable about covering your shift and being on time, and that some customers thank you and go out of their way to show you appreciation.  These realizations help you to experience some relief.

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Polarized Thinking.  You are a first-semester freshman who has always earned straight A's.  You are on full academic scholarship.  Your calculus class seems to be beating you up emotionally as your test scores are consistently in the B range.  You end up feeling like a failure.

Challenge: Think in shades of gray to challenge polarized thinking.  After talking to a friend, you realize that you are being a bit perfectionistic in calling yourself a failure.  Moreover, one B grade is unlikely to lead to loss of your academic scholarship.

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Overgeneralization.  You recently met Kaitlyn through your FHE group.  The two of you decided to meet for lunch; but on the day of the lunch date, she canceled.  She told you that she had forgotteon about something she had previously scheduled.  You thought to yourself, "Oh, I've heard that one before."  You have a history of the girls canceling on the second or third date.  You tell yourself, "Man, this happens all the time!"

Challenge 1:  Examine the evidence that what you are saying to yourself is really true.  After trying to honestly look at the evidence, you come to see that this problem has really only occurred two or three times since you have been at college.

Challenge 2:  Survey method.  Ask other people whether they think that your negative thought is valid.  Your roommate reminds you that some girls are just like that and that not every relationship is going to work out.  You are pleasantly surprised when Kaitlyn calls you a few days later and invites you to go to the park with her and her friends.

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Mind Reading.  You go to visit your friend Sarah at her apartment.  Sarah is normally happy to see you, but today her expression changes when you walk in the door.  Sarah excuses herself and goes down the hall into her bedroom.  Sarah claims that she is feeling sick, but you feel that Sarah is avoiding you because of an argument you had yesterday.  You begin to feel stressed and annoyed.

Challenge: Reattribution method.  Ask yourself, "What other factors may have contributed to this problem?"  You stop to ask yourself whether there are other explanations for Sarah's behavior.  You decide that Sarah may really be sick and just doesn't want to expose others to her cold.  You also know that Sarah is quite particiar about her appearance and may feel self-conscious about not having her makeup on.  You also know that Sarahmay have a lot of homework that is due the next day and that maybe she doesn't have the time to talk right now.  As you think about these possibilities, you find yourself calming down and being much less stirred up about the situation.  You leave a note for Sarah, asking her to call you later and telling her that you hope she gets feeling better.

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Catastrophizing. You hear news about the recession leading to job layoffs.  You begin to feel anxious as you say to yourself, "What if I can't get a job when I graduate this summer?"

Challenge 1:  Examine the evidence that what you are saying to yourself is really true.  As you remind yourself that you are a good student with internship experience, you are able to calm down.  You also realize that you have resources and options available to you in case it does take some time to find a job.

Challenge 2:  Examine the evidence. Ask yourself, "What percentage of the things that I worry about actually come about?"  You may, in fact, be a very poor fortune teller!  Continue with, "Of those things that do come about, do I get through them all right?"  As you consider your response, you are likely to recognize inner resilience that helps you get through hard times.

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Personalization. You are in class and answer the professor's question.  Two of your classmates laugh just as you finish making your comment.  You feel embarrassed and a little angry as you assume that they were laughing at you and your comment.  You might even say to yourself, "I wish I were smart like other people I know, and then they wouldn't have laughed."

Challenge: Survey method. A more rational response would be to check it out.  In other words, ask someone you know in class what they thought about your comment.  You might also recall times when you were talking to a friend in class and shared a humorous story with your friend, a story that had nothing to do with what was going on in class.

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Control Fallacies.  Your parents have been arguing for years.  You have talked to them many times about how disturbing it is to hear them yell at each other.  You frequently worry about your brother who still lives at home, as he has confided in you that he wants to leave.  You keep thinking that if you just say the right thing to your parents, they will stop arguing.

Challenge:  Examine the evidence. Remind yourself that you cannot control your parents, but you can call your brother each week and be supportive and listen to him.  That support probably helps him more than you realize.  Remember, too, as you listen to your mom and dad in their calmer moments, that you may get an opportunity to suggest marriage counseling.

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Fallacy of Fairness.  Three of your roommates come from rich families.  Their parents pay for their education, whereas you have to support yourself.  The twenty-hours-per-week job makes it difficult for you to do anything but study, work, and sleep.  Your resentment builds each time you hear about your roommates dating and having fun.  It doesn't seem very fair.

Challenge: Change "shoulds" to preferences.  Recognize the "shoulds" or rules that you have for the situation.  You may be thinking that your roommates shouldn't be having so much fun when you have to work, or that you shouldn't have to work so much.  Stating your feelings as preferences can change the way you feel about the situation.  For example, "It would be nice if I didn't have to work, but I don't have control over that.  Maybe I can talk to my friends and brainstorm some ways to not have to work so much when I'm in school.  That way I can have a little more social life."

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Blaming Others.  Nobody gives you any respect.  Your parents have always been critical of you.  Your high school friends eventually turned on you.  And your new roommates are starting to complain, too.  It's the same old story--they say that you're too blunt.  You say to yourself, "Can't anybody just act like adults and tell it like it is?  These people are way too sensitive."  You often find yourself thinking, "Come on!  Grow up, people."

Challenge:  Acceptance.  Although you may have been hurt by people in your past, you might enjoy better friendships and relationships by developing a willingness to examine your personal contribution to conflicts with others.  Recognize that you, too, are not perfect, and that healthy relationships always require making amends and actively forgiving others.

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Blaming Self.  You serve as the activites chairperson in your ward.  The last ward social did not go as well as you would have liked.  There wasn't enough of the main dish to go around.  The bishop has already reminded you that the turnout was larger than expected, but you still feel that you failed.  Moreover, some of the activities were a bomb.  You say to yourself, "Why did I trust Jen with the activities?  I should have checked with her again."

Challenge:  Examine the evidence. It would be wise to remind yourself, "A ward social requires more than just one person's efforts.  It's impossible to foresee every possibility.  The bishop was right about it being a large turnout, and the bishop was pretty sure that some of those people weren't even ward members."  Also, you did follow up with Jen, and she kept telling you that she had everything taken care of.  It's also good to remind yourself that a lot of people said that they had fun at the social.

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Shoulds.  Your chemistry class is wearing you down.  You say, "I should be getting this stuff better.  I aced the prerequisite last semester.  I shouldn't be taking so much time studying for this one class."

Challenge:  Try changing your shoulds to preferences and identifying specific goals.  "I would prefer that the material came more easily to me.  I did get a B on the last test, which isn't bad.  Maybe getting a study group together might help us all learn a little faster."

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Emotional Reasoning.  You avoid conflict and feel the tension in your body creep up when conflict does come.  Your roommate tells you that he/she wishes you weren't living in the apartment.  You feel the tension come, which is quickly followed by feelings of guilt.  You assume that you must have done something wrong for your roommate to feel this way.  Why else would you feel guilty?

Challenge: Survey method.  Just because you feel a certain way does not mean that it is accurate.  You may have just learned to look at your own contribution to conflict without considering the other person's contribution as well.  That pattern can often lead to guilt in such situations.  This roommate may, in fact, be difficult for many people to get along with.  Check it out with another roommate or a friend.

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Fallacy of Change.  You have been dating your girlfriend exclusively for some time.  You have prayed and received confirmation that she is the one to marry.  A few weeks later, she breaks up with you.  You persist in trying to persuade her that the two of you were meant to be together.

Challenge: Examine the evidence.  Ask yourself whether it is really true that you can't be happy unless she changes.  If, after some effort to persuade her, she doesn't change her mind, she probably never will.  Moreover, your relentless pursuit may lead her to conclude that she made the right decision.

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Global Labeling.  You have had a hard time making friends at college.  You meet people, and you have many surface-level friendships; however, none of them seem to be going anywhere.  You have been wondering whether you are just a loser socially.

Challenge: Define terms.  After asking yourself what it really means to be a loser, you remind yourself that a loser is someone who doesn't care about others, himself, or anything.  You remind yourself that you are making progress toward earning your degree, that you have family and friends back home who love you, and that if you keep trying, you will probably make some close friends.

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Being Right.  Your friend gives you some consutructive feedback about something you said at church.  She mentions that you came on strong when you tried to correct a class member who had made a statement that was doctrinally incorrect.  You defend yourself by reminding her how wrong the person was and how important a correct understanding of doctrine is.  Your friend drops the issue, and you miss the point.

Challenge: Your friend may be trying to encourage more Christian understanding and behavior on your part.  How a comment is made is often even more important than what is said.  Here is an opportunity to recognize that both you and the class member made a mistake.  Then try thinking in shades of gray to challenge any perfectionistic thinking.  No one is perfect.  We are simply wise to learn from our experiences.

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Heaven's Reward Fallacy.  You have had some ongoing serious health problems.  You wonder to yourself, "Why me?  I try to do what's right."  You start resenting your roommates who can be so physically active and have fun.  It seems so unfair.

Challenge: Survey method.  Check it out.  You do start to feel better after you have talked to a trusted friend.  Your conversation helps you to remember that you have friends and that you still have many blessings in your life despite your current trial with health problems.

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