Optimism can feel like too much work when you’re mentally ill. Our brain is constantly thinking, reacting to the information our senses and emotions send. Sometimes our thinking gets skewed, and we look at everything through a distorted lens. Distortions hold us back from living a full life. Knowing what those distortions are can help us change our thoughts.
1. All or Nothing
“I’m either a success or a failure.”
If you can’t do it all, why bother trying? Trying something new is a success in itself. Life isn’t all-or-nothing. Would it be a disaster if you tried and failed?
2. Mind Reading
“They probably think I’m incompetent.”
The truth is you’re not a mind-reader. You can’t possibly know what they think of you and your abilities. Where is the proof this statement is true?
3. Emotional Reasoning
“I feel inadequate, therefore, I am inadequate.”
You are not your feelings. Think about past successes and don’t tell me you don’t have any.
“They were talking about me when they made that comment.”
This is one of my personal favourites. I’m sensitive, so if you say something negative, I assume you’re talking about me. Oh wait a minute, it’s not always about me, is it? If you think someone’s comment is about you, ask them. Stay calm, no tears, the answer most likely will surprise you.
5. Global Labelling
“Everything I do turns out wrong.”
Really! Everything? This can’t possibly be true even if it feels real to you. Depending on where you are in your life, you might be setting yourself up for failure. You expect yourself to go to the gym, but in reality, all you can manage is a walk to the shower? Keep your expectations realistic.
“If I go to the party, there will be terrible consequences.”
What is the worst thing that could happen? What are you worried about? If you go, have an exit strategy so you don’t feel trapped. Maybe you will stay home because you’re not ready yet. In my case, I would stay home because I don’t like parties, but sometimes I stay home because I don’t want to deal with it.
7. ‘Should’ statements
“I should visit my family every time they want me to.”
Remove ‘should’ from your vocabulary. Every time you use the word ‘should’, your self-esteem takes a hit. We grow up knowing there are expectations for how we conduct our lives. You are an adult, you should live life on your terms. Mental illness is a battlefield and you are fighting for your life. Do what you need to do to stay on the road to wellness.
“Everything always goes wrong for me.”
See #5. It feels like everything goes wrong, everyone doesn’t understand, all your dreams are lost. You’re in a dark place, so of course everything looks hopeless. It won’t always look so bleak.
9. Control Fallacies
“If I’m not in complete control, I will lose control.”
You will be okay if you are not in complete control. If you think you will lose control, make a plan to call a friend, a crisis line or 911.
“I am not as competent as my co-workers or supervisors.”
How do you know? There will always be someone better than you, that is true of everyone except for a few. Comparing yourself to others is self-defeating.
11. Heaven’s Reward
“If I do everything perfectly here, I will receive my reward later.”
God doesn’t expect you to do everything perfectly, so give yourself a break. You don’t want to set yourself up for failure. If you did everything perfectly you wouldn’t be human. If God doesn’t expect it, neither should you.
12. Disqualifying the Positive
“This successful experience was a fluke. The compliment was false.”
Do you find yourself downplaying compliments and then taking criticisms to heart? When someone compliments you, just say thank you. You don’t need to explain why you don’t deserve a compliment, embrace it and realize someone sees you differently than you see yourself.
“If I don’t do this perfectly, I’m a failure.” There’s that word again, perfect. See #1.
“I screwed up the past, and now I am vigilant to secure the future.”
All of us have screwed up at one time or another. Leave the past behind you, and focus on living in the moment. Living in the moment or mindfulness, is difficult to do, but it is worth the effort. Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future won’t help heal you.
15. Objectifying the Subjective
“I believe people will like me if I’m funny, so if I believe it, it is true.”
Be yourself. There are people who will like you just the way you are. How awesome is that?
16. Selective Abstraction
“All the good men have married.”
There are a few good men left, and a few good women, too. All is not lost. If all the good ones are gone, we don’t have to try, and if we don’t have to try, we will never be vulnerable. Don’t retreat into your shell, you are not a turtle. Being vulnerable is difficult for everyone. You deserve to have a full life.
17. Externalization of Self-worth
“My worth is dependent upon what others think of me.”
Silly brain, stop it! There has never been nor will there ever be someone like you. There is only one truly amazing, unique, wonderfully made you! I think that makes you valuable, don’t you?
18. Fallacy of the Change of Others
“You should change your behaviour because I want you to, it will make me happy and I will feel better.”
You, and only you, are responsible for your happiness. No one can make you happy, sad, angry, etc. On the flip side, you are not responsible for someone else’s happiness.
19. Fallacy of Worrying
“If I worry about it enough, the problem will resolve itself.”
,Worrying is like a tape replaying in your head, making you sick.Try channeling your worry by trying to come up with a way to resolve it sooner.
20. Ostrich Technique
“If I ignore it, it will go away.”
Trust me, it never goes away. If you put your head in the sand, the problem will still be there niggling away at the back of your mind. Don’t put it off. Deal with it and you will feel better. You will have to deal with it sooner or later, so make it sooner and it’s done.
21. Unrealistic Expectations
“I can never be less than my best.”
Keep your expectations reasonable. What is reasonable will change as you get better. You want to set your self up for success. Today you took a shower. Yay, you! It is not reasonable to expect yourself to run a marathon when you can barely get out of bed.
“I must focus on the negative details while I ignore the positive aspects of a situation.”
See #12. It is so easy to see the negative when you’re in a dark place. Finding the positive takes more work but you’ll be glad you did.
23. Being Right
“I must prove that I am right, being wrong is unthinkable.”‘
Not true. There is no shame in being wrong, people are wrong all the time. Apologize and move on. Making mistakes is a part of being human, being perfect is not, so go with the flow. Try to avoid becoming the person who thinks they’re right when clearly they’re wrong.
24. Fallacy of Attachment
“I can’t live without a partner. If I was in a relationship, all of my problems would be solved.”
See #18. Solving your problems starts with you. Wanting someone in your life is a better option, than needing someone in your life. Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely, get to know yourself. Think of it as an adventure where you get to discover yourself. You might find your own company tremendously enjoyable. Now wouldn’t that be lovely?
The Distortions and their statements are from the Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital Out-patient mental health program. The commentaries are my own.
I was in this program three or four times, so I understand this material, but putting it into practise is still difficult. The path to wellness can feel like one step forward, two steps back, some days. When you’re in the depths of despair, nothing feels possible. This list is meant as a guide, to make you aware of the distortions in your mind.
Some of us take baby steps and some of us can run, but we are all headed towards