Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stinkin' Thinkin'

One of the slogans in the program is "Think". Lord knows, I've done enough of that for several people. I think that I've analyzed and re-analyzed so much in my life time and yet the distortions of my thinking have only begun to be clear to me recently.

I've heard distorted thinking called "stinking thinking". I think that this is an apt name because when my thinking loses perspective, it means that my head is firmly stuck up my butt, and I need to get it unstuck. I've also heard this expressed another way: "When I'm in my head, I'm behind enemy lines."

I've had a lot of thought distortions that generally involved an ego that told me I was not liked, not good enough, not having any fun. So I would isolate myself which only made the thinking worse.

I found the following types of distorted thinking to be interesting. These were exercepted from the book, The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D. Some are examples of distorted thinking that I've engaged in:

1. All-or-nothing thinking - I see things as black-or-white. I'm focused on perfection and if someone or a situation isn't "perfect" then it's a failure. I've learned that no one or thing is perfect. I'm only human. And today I celebrate my humanness rather than castigating myself.

2. Overgeneralization - I see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as “always” or “never” when thinking about it. I've learned that "always" and "never" are God words. I only have today and can start the day over any time that I want. There are second chances.

3. Mental Filter - I pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that my vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. I've learned that I may get a critical comment, but I don't have to obsess over it for days while ignoring all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the positive - I reject positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count.” If I do a good job, then it's okay to feel happy. I don't need to discount good work that I do.

5. Jumping to conclusions - I interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support my conclusion. I need a reality check.

6. Mind Reading : Without checking it out, I arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to me. Another reality check is needed.

7. Projecting: I predict that things will turn out badly. Most of these thoughts start with "What if" and end negatively. I avoid what if statements because the scenarios are endless and never positive.

8. Magnification - I exaggerate the importance of my problems and shortcomings, and minimize the importance of my good qualities. I do an affirmation list to bring out my good qualities.

9. Emotional Reasoning - I assume that my negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are. Just because I may feel sad, doesn't mean that I'm hopeless or somehow a second rate person.

10. “Should” statements - I tell myself that things should be the way I expected them to be. This leads to guilt and frustration. I don't want to "should" all over myself. I also try to avoid thoughts that start with "must", "ought", or "have to". Too many parental messages lead to stinking thinking.

11. Labeling - Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. I sometimes attach a negative label to myself when I make a mistake. Labeling is a way that I beat myself up and feed low self-esteem. I don't label others much. I've learned to accept that others have their own way of doing things. My acceptance of them helps me to think constructively rather than destructively. I can be gentle with myself too.

12. Personalization and Blame - Personalization comes when I hold myself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under my control. Personalization leads to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy. I don't like the blame game or play it. I've learned to take my own inventory and not the other persons. As my sponsor says, when I speak negatively of others then it's reflecting what I think about myself.

What I've come to understand through working the program is that these thoughts represent my perception which may be very different from reality. So I need to do a reality check. I ask myself whether the sad, angry, lonely, anxious feelings I'm having are based on fact. Am I trying and convicting someone due to my imagination? How does what I'm thinking compare with the reality of a situation?

In addition to doing a check on the facts, I look at what is going on and what my role is in it. I also know that I can run the thoughts past my sponsor, go to meetings, and ask for spiritual guidance in lifting me out of my miserable thinking.

Just because someone says or does something that is unkind to me, doesn't mean that I need to own it or engage in distorted thinking. I can respond with healthy words and actions or I can choose to simply walk away. The slogan T.H.I.N.K. is a great acronym for any statement that I make: Is it Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary, and Kind?


  1. Syd this was the most eye opening post I have read in a while - I liked it so much I am copying it to my email to pin to my bullitin board... its a very good reminder because my mind likes to take me places if I dont stay in the moment.

  2. This is such an important post. I think it is imperative for everybody to realize that our own perceptions of people and events aren't always true - or correct. I've read a lot of Burns' material and it has really helped me but my own mental health is still such a work in progress. Right now I am studying A Course in Miracles. It deals with the ego and the role it plays in our unhappiness. I highly recommend it but it is an at least year-long undertaking. I get so inspired by the ideas you put forward on your blog Syd. It's hard to find kindred spirits when it comes to things like our thinking patterns, spiritual healthiness etc.

  3. I have a real issue with the first example.

    ugh. working on it though.

  4. I love the "behind enemy lines" statement. I'm going to print this and reread it....this needs to take root in me.

  5. You are a phenomenal help to me sometimes syd, reading through that I see so much in myself I just dont know where to start.
    Just got home and gonna take dogs out.
    I will think about what you said as I walk round our fields, sometimes life can feel so good others it feels so hopeless, with me I seem to jump between these extremes.

  6. A wonderful, thoughtful post; so much of our own reality is a product of our thinking!

  7. I find that my perception of people is never the truth...fully...

    I can think, analyze, rehash....resent... and finally submit to the truth...

    it's never about me when I submit, it's about how to live...

    Do I wanna be right or happy?

    I agree with Gail...definately need to mull over this one, savor it a while...let it take root!!! :)

    Thanks Syd!

  8. Great post - I had to laugh out loud - I had, sitting next to me at my desk (where I've been engaging in several of the distortions you outline), a sheet with the "Cognitive Distortions" you listed on them...

    Reminded me of another potential item: "...own the tools, use the tools..."

    Thanx again for all that you do and all that you are...

  9. I too am loving this Syd! Love the "behind enemy lines!" also! I'm going to copy and paste the numbered distortiona into a document and give it to a friend, and keep a copy for myself! Blessings Dear Syd! You are always a blessing to others! Thank you, Lisa

  10. Hmmm - - - this post made me THINK about my responses to provocative questions or remarks - - - you know, those that need a verbal return. I heard this statement some years at an Alateen Convention, and thought it to be very wise, so I kept this one in my private 'slogan' file: "Mean what you say; just don't say it mean."
    Great post, by the way!
    Anonymous #1

  11. Yep Syd...this whole post is a "KEEPER". One of your (our?) finer moments! Thank you.

  12. Extremely good post. I encourage you to continue!

  13. I just heard THINK for the first time recently and loved it. I've already used it a few times.
    As for the rest, I'm too much the optimist. Sometimes I should be more negative, or at least realistic.

  14. Thanks for the reminder about David Burns, he was IT in Cognitive Therapy when I was in grad school. I thought he was great, a breath of fresh air.

  15. Ohhh! Ooooo. Ouch. So timely for me. I'm not going to beat myself up here but, guilty of a lot of this...most I guess. You helped me to see how impt. it is that I really focus on the positives. Am going to reread and reread then meditate. Thank you.

  16. Your post are amazing! Thank you for them and for your kind comments on my blog. :-)

  17. Just wanted you to know I just gave you an award. You can see it on my blog.

    Love Ya,

  18. This fits so perfectly to what I was reading this morning. I am going to share it with a friend who, like me and you and so many, tends to analyze stuff to death. Thanks!

  19. Such an interesting pots. In sobriety I spent months in therapy working on projective identification, where much of the hatred against the self is directed at another, a destructive core fantasy many of us deny or gloss over. Such self-hatred within -- I ould never have believed it.

    Mary LA

  20. Thank you for the notes on crazy thinking. Oh what a dark forest the mind is...
    Meditation has really helped me detach from my thoughts and just look at them for what they are..
    and not what I am
    Does this make sense
    Just for today I have a moment of clarity and clam

  21. 9 out of 12... shit! me thinks i'm gonna memories your t.h.i.n.k.!!!

  22. Great post, Syd, thanks. Although they have that slogan on the wall where I go, Think, Think, Think.......most of us are told to avoid that action! But I will definitely pass on the acronym.

  23. I have always been partial to the acronym of THINK. I always try to be thoughtful, honest, intelligent, necessary and kind in all of my actions and reactions with my qualifiers.


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