Once people have been suffering from depression for long periods of time they often suffer from “Twisted thinking” or “Irrational Thought Processes”. These like most symptoms and problems caused by depression and PTSD, are not necessarily noticed by the person who is actually “ill”.
These are however picked up by our peers or friends/family. Most of the time they are dismissed by “I see ‘x’ is feeling his/her usual happy self today” or “nice to see you so positive for a change!”.
Although flip remarks, they do point to the fact that your thinking has become twisted in the sense that you are looking at everything from the negative point of view.
The following is a list of ways in which people look at things with “twisted thinking”:
- All-or-nothing thinking… You look at everything in all-or-nothing terms.
- Over generalisation… You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
- Mental filter… You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.
- Discounting the positives… You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities ‘don’t count’.
- Jumping to conclusions…
- Mind reading: You assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there is no evidence for this.
- Fortune-telling: You arbitrarily predict that things will turn out badly.
- Magnification or minimisation… You blow up things out of proportion or you shrink their importance inappropriately.
- Emotional reasoning… You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one.” or “I don’t feel like doing this so I’ll put it off.”
- Should statements… You criticise yourself to other people with ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts’. ‘Musts’, ‘oughts’ and ‘have-tos’ are similar offenders.
- Labelling… You identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying “I made a mistake” you tell yourself “I’m a nerd” or “a loser”.
- Personalisation and blame… You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that your own attributes and behaviour might contribute to a problem.
Now that you have read these 10 types of “twisted thinking” and thought to yourself ‘yer that’s me’. Here are some ways of “Untwisting your thinking”:
- Put it in writing: Note down your negative thoughts; try to decide which of the ten sorts of twisted thinking you are involved in. Doing this will help you see the problem more realistically.
- Find counter-examples: For example, if you think that people are always criticising you, don’t automatically believe that this is true: list the times when you have received compliments.
- Befriend yourself: If you tend to have an interior voice that is critical, try turning it into the caring voice you would use if talking to a friend with the same difficulty. Don’t single out yourself for harsh treatment.
- Test your assumptions: If you find it stressful to stand in a crowded social gathering for more than ten minutes, test your assumption by trying to stay there for fifteen minutes.
- Think in increments: If you tend to see things in absolute terms, try to see them in more subtle gradations: a partial rather than an absolute failure, for example.
- Talk to other people: If you think your problems are abnormal, ask others how they feel. For example, if you find meetings stressful, ask friends how they feel about them. Do they consider you a failure because of your feelings?
- Clarify your meaning: If you consider yourself a loser, ask yourself what this really means. Can just one aspect of your behaviour justify this label?
- Edit your thoughts: If you tend to think in emotive or absolute terms, try to rephrase your thoughts more coolly. Instead of ‘I must arrive on time’ say ‘I have a strong preference for arriving on time’.
- Broaden the picture: If you feel overburdened with responsibility, think about all other factors that contribute to your situation.
- Ask what the feeling is worth: List the benefits of a negative thought or type of behaviour.
(This work has been adapted with thanks from: The Feeling Good Manual, by David D Burns MD, 1989)