Natalie David, LCSW
A Change in Perspective = A Change in Mood
Updated: May 22, 2018
It is Friday night and your company is having a party to celebrate a recent success. It has been a high stress week, but you accomplished your goals and you feel great. You are looking forward to relaxing and socializing with your colleagues. But, when you arrive, you see a manager who is cold and unwelcoming to you. He greets others, but he doesn’t greet you personally. Suddenly, your mood changes and your mind is flooded with thoughts. “He doesn’t like me. I might get fired soon.” Now you are filled with anxiety, and all you can think about is making an exit and going home. You say goodbye to your colleagues, and you leave. The rest of the night is spent thinking about what a terrible day you had, and what a “loser”you are for not being able to keep your job. You spend the weekend feeling depressed, anxious and unable to get out of bed.
Situations like this occur for plenty of people at work, school, and in family interactions daily. Thoughts can become distorted in ways that lead to anxiety and a depressed mood. In the example above, there is no way to know what the manager is actually thinking, unless you are a mind reader. Depression caused by this kind of interaction is due to a Cognitive Distortion- a maladaptive thought process that leads to negative thoughts and emotions. While one person might choose to brush it off and continue having fun, someone who is prone to using cognitive distortions might spiral into series of negative automatic thoughts. Often this style of thinking becomes turns into a pattern, causing a significant degree of damage to one’s life. By first identifying cognitive distortions, you can begin to make positive changes that will decrease anxiety and depression, and will lead to better interactions with others, improved relationships and a more peaceful life.
Cognitive distortions were first identified by Dr. Aaron Beck in the 1960s in his introduction of the cognitive behavioral model of therapy in which thoughts lead to negative emotions, which then lead to certain maladaptive behaviors. By utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy, therapists and individuals can begin to recognize patterns of maladaptive behaviors, the emotions and thoughts that led to them, and begin to make significant changes in the functioning and coping skills of the individual.
Below are some commonly used cognitive distortions.
Can you identify with any of them?
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: Do you see thing as being either one way or another with no “gray” area in between?
2. Over generalization: Do you use the words “Always” or “Never” when you describe your life? “I never have any luck.”
3. Mental Filter: Do you dwell on only negative things in your life and disregard everything else?
4.Discounting the Positive: Do you say things like “that doesn’t count” when something good happens to you?
5. Jumping to Conclusions: Do you make a judgement before you have all before having facts support your conclusion?
6. Mind Reading: Do you attribute certain negative thoughts to people, even without making sure that is the case? See the example above.
7. Fortune-telling: Do you predict that things will turn out badly?
8. Magnification: Do you exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings?
9. Emotional Reasoning: Do you assume that your negative emotions are reflective of the way the way things really are? For example, “I am upset, so it must be true that my circumstances are as bad as I feel that they are.”
10. Catastrophizing: Do you assume the worst case scenario will happen?
What can you do?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been shown to be an effective form of treatment for a range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and OCD. By recognizing your maladaptive thinking when facing situations, you can become aware of ways to change the patterns through reframing and challenging automatic thought processes with the assistance of a skilled CBT therapist. Recognizing thought patterns takes time and perseverance but, ultimately, you will replace maladaptive behaviors with new and improved coping skills. Automatic negative thoughts will be replaced with more realistic thoughts. CBT is a time limited, effective form of therapy which focuses on the present and gives clients positive skills for a more fulfilling life.