In this, my final post on negative and irrational thinking, I will relay three more types of cognitive distortions from Scott Burns’ seminal book, “The Feeling Good Handbook.” Since we have firmly established in previous posts that all of my followers are much too well-adjusted to succumb to any type of distorted thinking, I will conclude with some tips on how you can instead use this information to greatly enhance your relationships with others at home and at work. I think you’ll find my examples extremely helpful!
There are many forms of “should” statements that one might fall prey to. You tell yourself that things should be the way you hope them to be, and feel guilty and frustrated when they do not meet your expectations. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist tells herself, “I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.” She feels unhappy and frustrated.
While “should” statements directed at yourself lead to guilt, those directed against other people lead to anger. An example is, “My son shouldn’t have misbehaved so much at his birthday party. I spent a whole week planning it and he ruined it.”
“Must,” “ought,” and “have to” are similar offenders. All of these can lead to a “shouldy” (shitty) approach to life!
All or Nothing Thinking
You look at things in absolute, “black and white” categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. “I forgot one key point I was planning to make in the negotiation I just finished. Damn, I really blew it.” “The deck I built in the backyard would have been perfect if I had just put one more coat of primer on the wood before I sealed it. Every time I look at it, it just pisses me off.”
You add to your anger and frustration over a situation by inappropriately labeling yourself or others. Instead of just saying “I made a mistake,” you label yourself a “loser,” “fool,” or “idiot.” Labeling is irrational because you are not what you do. It is a useless and harmful abstraction that just leads to anxiety and low self-esteem.
You may also label other people. My wife catches me doing this all the time. However, in my case, it is totally justified. (Hah!) I can often be heard uttering such useful and insightful comments as, “Can this guy in front of me drive any slower? He is either too old to drive or so young he thinks everyone needs to be texted. Either way, he’s an idiot!” Or, “I haven’t seen our waiter for about an hour. Where was he trained, Chuck E. Cheese’s? How incompetent can he be?”
The next time you see my wife, you might comfort her.
So now, the big payoff! Since none of you need any of these concepts to clean up your own thinking, I will provide a few examples of how you can use them to greatly improve your relationships with others. (Drum roll, please.) Here you go:
A wife’s comment to her husband: “Dear, just because I bought a $1,000 cocktail dress for New Year’s Eve, it doesn’t mean that we are going to go bankrupt. You are using ‘magnification’ and are also ‘fortune telling,’ all of which is distorted thinking.”
An employee talking to his boss: “Just because you are my boss, that doesn’t mean that you can tell me I ‘should’ work harder. You are employing twisted thinking, and acting ‘shouldy.’ You need to back off.” After your boss’ response, you then say, “What was that, you said I’m useless, and I’m fired? Now you’re ‘labeling’ and ‘jumping to conclusions.’ I can show you how to fix that!”
A husband to his wife: “Honey, just because I suggested we have a threesome, that doesn’t make me a pervert. You are inappropriately ‘labeling’ me.”
I’m sure these examples have been quite helpful. Any time you need advice on how to improve your relationships, just ask Tim!