Avoid Self-Defeating Thoughts

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

 During this mental health month I encourage you to become more aware of what you think about all day long.  As you become more aware of your thought patterns, pay special attention to the patterns that are self-defeating and distort the reality of the world around you.  Here are some thought patterns  identified by psychologists which impair our ability to take appropriate action or maintain satisfying relationships:  

Mind reading:  you assume you know what others are thinking in their mind, for example, "My boss thinks I'm an idiot."  You may feel so sure of your ability to read minds that even if your boss pays you a compliment about how smart you are, you say to yourself, "Oh sure! I know what you really think of me."  At times, I tell my clients, "I'm only a psychologist, not a mind reader. So tell me what you're thinking" 

Fortune telling: you predict future negative outcomes, sometimes, even before you begin an undertaking, for example, "I'll fail that exam" or, "Things are alright now, but something will soon happen to mess things up."  And, when something does go wrong (as things often do) you acclaim, "I knew it."  Thus, your belief in your fortune telling ability becomes so strong that next time you don't even bother to try.  
"Awfulizing" it: you believe that the outcome of something will be so awful and terrible that you won't be able to stand it.  

Negative labeling:  originates from our childhood habit of nicknaming.  You give yourself and others negative labels: "I am a flop" and then you act like one; "He's a rotten man," then, you relate to that person as if he really is, therefore, no wonder that he acts like one.  
 Dismissing positives: You treat positives as insignficant, trivial, or temporary.  For example, your spouse takes an awful lot of trouble for doing something for you and you say to yourself, "Spouses are supposed to do things like that for each other."  You accomplish something and say to yourself, "Anybody can do that.  No big deal."  

Negative focusing: you focus almost exclusively on negatives, "I can never do anything right," or "He never has anything positive to say about me."  Dismissing positives and focusing on negatives, which often go hand in hand, are two thieves that will rob you of your happiness.  
Overgeneralization:  On the basis of an experience of one thing or a person you draw conclusions about all.  For example, one man (or woman) betrays you and you form a belief, "No man (or woman) can be trusted."  

All-or-nothing thinking:  It is also called "black and white thinking."  For example, you believe a person or a thing is either all good or all bad.  The truth is that everyone has some good and some bad and the proportions of that mix may vary from one person to the other. 
"Shoulds" and "musts" thinking: unmet expectations are a source of unhappiness.   Expectations are based on shoulds and musts.  We bring a lot of unhappiness to ourselves by forming such expectations as "I should," "they should," or "you must," and believing that they will be upheld by everyone at all times.  When this doesn't happen, we gripe, fight or mope, and feel awful.  

Personalizing:  You disproportionately, inaccurately, or unjustifiably blame yourself for negative outcomes, for example: "My parents divorced.  It's my fault," or "The marriage ended.  It's all my fault."  

Blanming: You disproportionately, inaccurately, or unjustifiably blame others for negative outcomes and refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself, for example, "She's to blame for the way I feel," or, "My parents caused all my problem." 
Emotional reasoning: You think your problem behavior or situation is caused by your emotion, for example, "My marriage is not working out because I am depressed." 

Unfair comparison: You make comparisions without enough information to know whether you are comparing apples with apples, for example, "Everybody is going about their life steadily and having a good time, and look at me!"  You don't know enough about what's really going on in their lives.  

Interestingly, many people who think in this way won't swap their life for anyone else's.  

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