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How are your Thoughts Influencing your Emotions?

Do you ever find yourself jumping to a worst-case scenario or the worst possible conclusion? Do you ever feel like you are a failure?

if you received a low letter grade on one test, or received a little negative feedback at work? Maybe you and your partner got into a fight, and you immediately think that they are going to break-up with you?

It’s more common that you think for people to experience these distortions in thought, or what’s referred to as a cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are thoughts or patterns of thinking that impact a person’s ability to perceive reality rationally and non-judgmentally. They often lead to stronger emotional reactions than we’d like. Luckily, we have the power to control these cognitive distortions and in turn, minimize our emotional reactions. How can we do this? Let’s dive in… First, it’s important to understand and recognize cognitive distortions. Some examples include:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking Seeing things in terms of extremes – something is either fantastic or awful, you believe you are either perfect or a total failure. 2. Overgeneralization Overgeneralizing can lead to overly negative thoughts about yourself, and your environment based on only one or two experiences. (Remember that example of the student who received just one low letter grade!) 3. Mental Filter The mental filter can foster a decidedly pessimistic view of everything around you by focusing only on the negative. 4. Disqualifying the Positive Acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them. 5. Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading The inaccurate belief that we know what another person is thinking or feeling. 6. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling The tendency to make conclusions and predictions based on little to no evidence. 7. Catastrophizing Exaggerating or minimizing the meaning, importance, or likelihood of things. 8. Emotional Reasoning Emotional reasoning refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions as fact. Emotions are not fact! 9. Personalization Taking everything personally or assigning blame to yourself without any logical reason to believe you are to blame. 10. Always Being Right Believing we must always be right, and if we aren’t we are no-good!

Now let’s get to the good stuff! How can I stop these cognitive distortions? Here are two great skills to practice, in order to help you react to a situation more rationally and less judgmental:

Check the Facts Check the Facts is a DBT skill that helps you modify your response to a level that is appropriate for the situation. Ask yourself the following questions to check the facts:

  • Is the way I’m feeling and thinking about a situation factual? Find some evidence and write it down! (Remember, evidence is something that can be proven)

  • What is the event prompting my emotion?

  • What are my interpretations and assumptions about this event? Do they match the facts?

  • Am I assuming a threat?

  • What’s the disaster? How can I cope well with it?

Thoughts on Trial Write down the thought and explore how it’s contributing to your current feeling by putting your thought “on trial.”

The Defense:

  • Write down all the evidence to support the thought

The Prosecution:

  • Write down all the evidence that does not support the thought. For example- if you feel like you are a terrible student because you got a D on one test…take a look at your overall grades. Maybe you have ten A’s and one D out of the whole year! Ask yourself, does this one grade define me as a student?

The Judge:

  • This is tough part! As the judge, it is your job to now look at the defenses and the prosecution's arguments and decide which hold more weight!

Cognitive Distortions are very common and can be quite powerful, we all suffer from them from time to time! Recognizing common cognitive distortions and implementing skills like the ones listed above can help you to gain control of how your emotions are impacted by your thoughts. Although some thoughts are strong, remember that you can take control of the way that you think, which can eventually contribute to decreased emotional suffering. Thoughts are not factual!

Writer: JOSEPH BIOLETTI, LAC - Mindsoother Therapy Center

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