1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.
2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
3. a successful performance or achievement
4. a person or thing that is successful
There are a couple other errors in thinking that are worth spending extra time on. So I am going to spend an entire day of the series on each. I did not talk about them in the anxiety series so don't tune out!! :)
Today's topic is about personalization. Essentially, it's when we interpret events that occur as having a direct relation to us, even when they have nothing to do with us at all.
So for example...
Your boss is having a bad day and seems to be avoiding contact with people. You ask her a question at one point and she snaps back at you. You assume her mood must be about you somehow... did you offend her? Did you mess up on your most recent work project? You feel guilty and ashamed because you just know you must have done something wrong.
Your husband tells you he is stressed out and nothing you say is making him feel any better. You feel guilty because you can't cheer him up. You think to yourself "If I was a good wife, I would be able to help in some way. I am letting him down."
In both of the above examples, the situation has nothing to do with you! Let me repeat: nothing to do with you! You may feel like it for some reason but that doesn't make it true. Each person is having their own isolated experiences in these instances and you have nothing to do with either. And yet, sometimes, and we all do this, we make assumptions that we are somehow at fault for what other people are dealing with.
So how do we change this?
1) We need to realize that there could be another side to the story.
Is it possible that your boss' bad mood has to do with the big budget meeting she had that morning? Or, maybe you had heard that she and her husband are going through a rough patch in their marriage and perhaps they just got in a fight. There are many possible explanations when people are in bad moods or stressed out and unless you can think of a clear-cut reason that they may be upset with you, it most likely has nothing to do with you at all.
2) Even if it is about us, so what?!
I don't say this to be insensitive or to act like offending others is not a big deal. However, many of us who fall into this negative thinking trap, do not like conflict. In fact, we avoid it at all costs. So, the very thought that someone's behavior towards us is anything less than "normal" brings up a lot of fear... the fear that they may not like us or we may be as close as we used to be or we may be in a fight now etc. This is incredibly scary for the conflict-avoider!! So rather than simply approaching the person and attempting to resolve the issue, we internalize the guilt, fear etc. and sit in those negative emotions. This can feel like absolute torture!
So, back to the original question: Even if it is about us, so what? When two people get in a fight, it is in fact possible to make up! And even come out of the fight, closer than ever. Think of a marriage; I don't know a single married couple that doesn't fight sometimes. Fighting indicates a level of relationship where two people are close enough to reveal themselves completely, even if it means conflict. This is incredibly important in fostering genuine closeness and even longevity in relationships.
So let's recap this week.
A) An Activating Event occurs
B) A Belief (a thought) crosses our minds
c) There is a Consequence
Our thoughts most likely fall into one of the Faulty Belief categories discussed either yesterday or today. We'll go over another one on Monday as well.
You began to learn your ABC’s yesterday which is great! Becoming aware of the sequence of events that occurs when your emotions get out of hand is the first step. Keep practicing “coaching yourself” and becoming more and more aware of what takes place in those situations! Each of these posts will build on one another. They are not meant to be isolated but rather are designed specifically to be read in this order, slowly but surely increasing your knowledge and self-awareness. It takes dedication to read these and courage to implement what you read, so I am proud of you!
For those of you who read my anxiety series, today’s content is going to be review (Day 10 & Day 11 from anxiety series). For the newbies out there this may be brand new information. Either way, as you read through this post, think of times you have fallen into some of the following traps. These are common thinking patterns and nothing to be ashamed of… however, they are important to note and grab hold of so that you are no longer controlled by unhealthy thoughts.
After that long introduction… today’s topic is Cognitive Distortions (aka Faulty Beliefs). There are a variety of thinking pitfalls we all fall into that can really mess us up emotionally. See you if you can relate to any of these:
Must, Ought, Should, Has to, Need, Have to...
"I must have the approval of everyone I know."
"People should always treat me fairly."
"I need to do well all the time."
Assuming the worst from a relatively minor situation.
Your husband says he'll be home from work by 5:30pm. By 5:35pm, he hasn't shown upyet and you start to get worried. By 5:40pm, you start wondering if he got in a car accident and by 5:45pm your heart is racing and you're near tears.
All-or-nothing/Black & White Thinking:
There is no middle ground, just one extreme or another. Either someone is completely to blame or responsibility-free in the situation. Let's say you're on a diet during Girl Scout Cookie season. You get offered a Thin Mint and try to resist but end up eating one. You're so upset that you just think to yourself "screw it" and eat the rest of the sleeve.
You've been feeling down lately and are in a bit of a "funk." Friday night rolls around and you get invited to a party with some coworkers. You think to yourself "This is probably going to be lame. I barely know these people. I doubt it will be any fun" and decide to just stay home alone, which adds to your depressed mood.
Making assumptions about what others are thinking. You're having a conversation with someone and they aren't maintaining eye contact. They even yawn once. You figure they must be bored out of their mind and you discontinue the conversation immediately.
If you're interested in reading a few more examples be sure to check out Day 10 & Day 11 from the anxiety series.
Let’s put a few things together. Yesterday’s ABC’s are:
An activating event takes place.
A thought runs through your head (perhaps one of the ones described today)
An emotion or behavior results.
As you are either writing down or just thinking about when these situations occur in your life, get even more specific from now on regarding the category of thought that crossed your mind. Was it an “all or nothing/black or white” thought? Did you catastrophize a bit or attempt to read someone's mind? Etc.
Keep working at this stuff. You really can get a handle on your thoughts, I promise!
As I have hammered into your head on a number of occasions (and will continue to do in future posts) there is a connection between the thoughts in our head and the feelings that emerge as a result. This is easy for me to write, especially as I have done so many times by now! But it's much harder to really understand on a deeper level. You must make this connection for yourself and it has to happen experientially.
I'll give you an example of when a realization like this might occur. You and your spouse get in a fight. You believe that he has treated you in a rude way. You think to yourself "Ugh, he makes me so mad!" You begin to give him the cold shoulder and intentionally stay upstairs for the evening, while he remains downstairs watching TV. You begin to sulk and think to yourself how unfair it is that he is enjoynig himself and watching his favorite shows while you are bored and alone in your room. He just makes you feel horrible sometimes! (By the way, I have never had this experience... Oh wait...)
One of the things we are going to try to accomplish throughout this series is to develop a new perspective on situations like the one just described. Rather than blaming someone else for your anger, sulking, boredom and all-around bad night, perhaps there is a way to actually feel okay, despite the fact that you're dealing with a situation that seems to be anything but okay. More on that later though.
We're still at the beginning. Actually identifying yourself when the thought-feeling connection is playing out in your life. So, first thing's first; you need to learn your ABCs.
A - Activating Event
This is the external situation. The fight, for example, between you and your spouse. It could also even be the anticipation of an event (i.e. a phobic person's anticipation of flying) or even simply a memory or image in your mind (perhaps a past event that created strong emotions).
B - Beliefs
These are your perspectives on the world, views of yourself and views of others. These play a hige part in hor you react to the activating event.
C - Consequences
These are the emotions, physical sensations (i.e. symptoms of panic) and/or behaviors that result from the activating event and your personal beliefs.
So here is your first "assignment". You can do this formally on paper or you can just give it some thought. What I encourage you to do is be your own coach and really begin to understand the ABCs.
If you decide to do this formally, it would look something like this:
1) Get some 3 x 5 cards or a small notebook that you can carry around with you.
2) Write the date and list out:
A: activating event -
B: belief -
C: consequences -
3) If you find yourself feeling emotional throughout the day, stop! Pull out the paper and think about what took place when your emotions started heating up.
A - What kind of situation were you in? Did you get in an argument with someone? Were you facing a deadline at work?
Or did you start thinking about something negative or scary? Are you anticipating a big speaking engagement or assignment that's due soon?
B - What thoughts did you have regarding the situation? Were you thinking "Gosh, this person is irritating" or "I'm never gonna get this finished!" or "I hope I don't screw this up!" etc.
C - What feelings or behaviors ensued?
This is the first step in gaining control of your thoughts! Practice, practice, practice! We'll get into more details later.
"Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them." - Epictetus
As we get started today with the topic of Healthy Thinking, I want to explain the specific perspective I'm going to be writing from before I jump in. There are many schools of thought in the psychology world and many different ways to approach the same issues. While I may dip into more than one modality throughout this series, for the most part I am going to focus on one: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.
Many theories address the way a person thinks, albeit through varying lenses. However, the premise behind CBT specifically deals with the fact that our thoughts have a direct impact on the way we feel and the way we act. Thoughts, in and of themselves, are not a peripheral issue in CBT, but rather one of the driving forces behind the theory (hence the cognitive part of the name).
Research has shown that CBT is effective in treating a variety of disorders such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I'll address, later in the series, how our thoughts interact with such disorders as the ones mentioned above.
Photo by Fenichel: Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis
A brief history lesson on CBT: Back in the 1950's and 1960's, psychologists such as Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, emerged with a theoretical orientation that greatly differed from the traditional methods originally developed by Freud. Rather, they favored the perspectives of certain philosophers who believed that the root causes of emotional disturbances exist in the way we view life and in our thoughts. Instead of using psychoanalysis (a la Freud) to treat people they used a more directive approach specifically looking at the thought - feeling - behavior connection. Through the years CBT has been adapted and developed into the approach therapists now use today (some of which will be explained throughout this series... although in less technical language and more applicable to our lives). :)
So... Why is all of this important? (Aside from being so interesting, right)? Well, as I am going repeat throughout the series our thoughts impact everything we do. Therefore, my thinking regarding this series impacts both how I write it and how you read it. Now that you know a little bit about the lens through which I will be filtering a lot of what I write, you'll have a better understanding of everything from here on out as well.
Looking forward to digging in deeper tomorrow! See you then!
Okay, it's not really that big since I gave you a heads up last week. The topic with the highest number of votes in the poll was Healthy Thinking. So that will be the topic of the next blog series.
I am really excited to explore this because some of the most popular posts I've done so far have had to do with our thoughts. This is something many of us struggle with... and I don’t mean simply thinking happy thoughts, but really gaining control over our thinking patterns so that they stop controlling us. It sounds cliché but we really do have the ability to make connections between our thoughts, feelings and actions. By bringing these connections into our conscious awareness, we can begin to see patterns, understand ourselves better and create lasting change.
There are no quick fixes here. I repeat, none! With education and some practice actually living out what you learn, growth can occur.
Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.