10 Common Thought Distortions and How to Learn to Change Your Mind

Changing your mind happens one thought at a time

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Your thoughts.

In recovery they are your friends. But some days… well, your thoughts can become an intimate enemy. Thoughts can get us into trouble when they become rigid patterns, or when we stop thinking about our thoughts and just react.

In recovery thoughts are your friends. But some days… well, your thoughts can become an intimate enemy. Thoughts can get us into trouble when they become rigid patterns, or when we stop thinking about our thoughts and just react.

A thought is only trouble if it causes you distress. If you are at peace in your mind, that is a gift that I hope you appreciate every day that you have it.

For some of us, our thoughts can take us places that are neither pleasant nor peaceful.

Common thinking difficulties can be broken down into two larger categories: Externalized thoughts and internalized thoughts. Externalized thoughts are directed at society or other people. Internalized thoughts are directed towards ourselves.  For some of us, just realizing that we tend towards one or the other type of thinking can prompt us to become more sensitive to the changes, and challenges of our minds.

Ten common thought distortions

1.All or nothing thinking – Another word for this is Black and White thinking. We either drink the whole bottle or not at all, or we eat all of the bag of chips or deny ourselves. Or we may look at our temporary circumstances and conclude that we are nothing but a failure in life.

2.Denial – This is the commitment to ignoring or pretending to ignore reality. We avoid facing our emotions, our difficult circumstances so instead we deny.

3.Displacement – This is a pattern where we deflect responsibility for ourselves by instead turning the spotlight onto other people. Sometimes a projection can take the form of judgment or stigma. Other times projection can be a feeling of annoyance towards other people for the things we think they should change. It’s easy to wield the spotlight, but it can be more difficult to accept it ourselves.

4.Intellectualization – Feelings are messy and difficult. It can be easy to explain feelings or needs away. Or even other people’s annoyance with us. Staying in our head can be tempting because visiting the heart can be a scary and intimidating thing.

5.Personalization – We obsess about what other people must think about us. We try to mind read and make assumptions that another person doesn’t care about us. We feel snubbed at the slightest hint of body language. We forget that other people are busy and are more concerned with their own needs than our needs. At an extreme level, we make assumptions that circumstances, and even life itself is tilted against us.

6.Projection – This one is subtle. We project onto others our own ‘stuff.’ We have difficulties, but rather than acknowledge it, instead we feel annoyed because our spouse won’t listen to us.

7.Rationalization – This one can be defined as a house of cards. We see the truth, but we rationalize other people’s… or in some cases our own bad or irresponsible behavior. The more we rationalize, the more shaky the foundation because nothing is based on reality.

8.Reaction Formation – We exchange what we perceive to be a more acceptable behavior for an unacceptable one. At first, it seems healthy, but not if it becomes a pattern. We feel annoyed at our spouse, but instead we pretend to be happy and nice towards them. They can tell we are not ourselves, but we stick to our guns. Everything is fine.

9.Regression – We refuse to grow up and end up feeling stuck in a stage of life. We regress in our maturity and repeat patterns rather than owning our mistakes or responsibility.

10.Repression – The tendency to push recurrent thoughts away from our conscious mind.

Changing your mind happens one thought at a time

One of the most helpful things about examining our thinking is just seeing the patterns that we tend to engage in. Being aware can be an important motivator to change. Thinking patterns can also support our growth and our recovery.

One of the most helpful things about examining our thinking is just seeing the patterns that we tend to engage in. Being aware can be an important motivator to change. Thinking patterns can also support our growth and our recovery. Here are four patterns that support improved health and wellness:

11.Compartmentalization – Instead of being overwhelmed with feelings of sadness because of your divorce, or stress over your family member’s illness, you go to work and focus on the job at hand. You let your feelings come, but when you are ready for them.

12.Compensation – You accept your weaknesses and your disadvantages, but you focus on your strengths. You have a bad habit of over eating junk food. You work to minimize your habit, but rather than obsessing about it, instead you focus on your energy on being as active as you can be.

13.Positive bias – You lean towards the positive and work hard to make it a reality. You will encounter setbacks and emotional turmoil in your recovery and in your work-life and family. But you believe in better things, so you keep at it. Because you persist, you are more likely than not to improve your circumstances and situation in life.

14.Sublimation – You take the cards that life has dealt you and make the best of it. You find a way to channel your anger, your competitiveness or your compulsiveness into healthy pursuits. You don’t use these behaviors to deny or push emotions or reality aside. You accept reality and your emotions, but instead you make a choice to improve yourself and your situation.

We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. Marian Wright Edelman

If you enjoyed this article, you will want to check out some of my other writing:

Depression: Four Questions That Will Change Your Mind

To Recover, You Must Be Willing to See

Seven Words That Will Change How You View Mental Health

How to Harness the Power of Your Mind to Accomplish What You Want

I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.

Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photo by Osseous

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