In this post I continue my discussion of cognitive distortions, which are habitual negative and irrational thoughts that cause us to feel bad about ourselves. You might want to be aware of these so that you can identify when other people (less well adjusted than you), such as family and friends, fall into these cognitive traps!
Magnification and Minimization
Magnification is exaggerating the importance of your shortcomings, problems, or mistakes. Basically, you are blowing negative things way out of proportion. Examples of magnification include:
“I can’t believe I let myself put on these extra few pounds. I look ugly and I am totally disgusted with myself.”
“My boss has been really pushing me lately. He has it in for me and I’m going to be fired.”
“How could I forget to send that check to the credit card company? I am such an idiot.”
Minimization also involves being unnecessarily hard on yourself, but instead consists of diminishing the importance of your desirable qualities or accomplishments.
“My new promotion to vice-president is nice, but Sue made vice-president three years ago.”
“I’ve gained a lot of muscle in the past year, but that guy I see in the gym every day still looks so much better than me.” (Of course, I would never think anything as distorted as this!)
“I bought seven Christmas presents today but couldn’t find the one I wanted to buy for my mom. The day was a failure.”
As you can see, magnifying faults and minimizing successes is not a great prescription for going through life as a happy camper!
Mental filtering is where you pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively. Examples include:
A beautiful woman is highly self-conscious at a social event because she is focusing on a little flab she has on the back of her arms.
A highly successful baseball pitcher has one bad outing and thinks he has lost his skills.
A business owner receives a complaint from a long-time customer and starts to think his entire company is going down the tubes.
The problem with cognitive distortions such as magnification, minimization, and mental filtering is that if we think something often enough, we eventually begin to believe it is true. And so we start to really believe we are weak, bad, and worthless, even though this is far from reality.
If you can learn (or teach others!) to quickly identify negative thinking and replace it with more realistic thoughts, you (or your maladjusted friends) will be on your way to a happier existence.