My therapist gave me a handy leaflet to consult about the ways I distort my thinking that bring me more anxiety.
The list below is from a book by Dr. David Burns called “The Feeling Good Handbook.”
1. All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things in absolute, black-and-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, it is seen as a total failure.
2. Over-generalization: Viewing a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as “always” or “never” when thinking about it.
3. Mental filter: Picking at a single negative detail and dwelling on it exclusively, so that the vision of all of reality becomes darkened. Obsessing on the negatives while ignoring the positives.
4. Discounting the positives: Rejecting positive experiences by insisting that accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count, thereby taking the joy out of life and feeling inadequate and unrewarded.
5. Jumping to conclusions: Interpreting things negatively when there are no real facts to support such a conclusion.
(a) Mind-reading — Assuming that people are reacting negatively when there’s no definite evidence for this and no attempt to verify it;
(b) Fortune-telling — Arbitrarily predicting that things will turn out badly based on feelings rather than facts.
6. Magnification or minimization: Blowing things way out of proportion by exaggerating their importance; alternatively, shrinking their importance inappropriately or dismissing altogether.
7. Emotional reasoning: Deriving reason from how you feel e.g., “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one” or “I feel guilty, so must be a rotten person” or “I feel angry, so this proves I’m being treated unfairly.”
8. “Should” statements: Telling oneself that things should be the way one hoped or expected them to be. Criticizing oneself or other people with “should” or “shouldn’t”, or using similar offenders such as “must”, “ought”, and “have to.” Such statements directed against oneself lead to guilt and frustration, and such statements directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration. Self-imposed “shoulds/musts” intended to motivate oneself often have the opposite effect (incite rebellion).
9. Labeling: Identifying with one’s shortcomings by attaching an irrational, negative label; instead of saying “I made a mistake”, telling oneself “I’m a jerk” or “a fool” or “a loser.” Labeling others when they are annoying, feeling the problem is with that person’s character or essence instead of with their thinking or behavior; that person is totally bad, creating hostility and hopelessness about improving things and leaving little room for constructive communication.
10. Personalization and blame: Blaming oneself for something one wasn’t entirely responsible for, or blaming other people or their circumstances, and overlooking ways that one’s own attitudes and behaviors might be contributing to the problem. Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people resent being scapegoated and will toss the blame right back.
So here’s my thinking. As a kid I was told all about the Bible, heaven and hell. As a tween and teen I played DnD, read fantasy books, and dreamed of stories where good prevails over evil. It’s HARD to think in grey terms. When Gandalf levels up in LOTR, he goes from Grey to White. When Raistlin turns evil, his robes change to black. I have a fierce moral code I try my best to adhere to and I am enraged and mystified when others don’t follow suit. Everyone has an alignment. Mine is chaotic good, like my buddy McNaulty.
But perhaps that is leading to panic attacks. If so, it’s time to consider another way, no matter what my gut tells me. My gut tells me to never, ever exercise, so clearly it benefits me to harken to a higher calling on occasion. Perhaps its time for a new alignment. Perhaps it’s time to be…chaotic neutral. To become Tatiana the Grey.
At the very least, it’s worth trying to counter my should/shouldn’ts with “I will/I won’t” and “It would be nice if…” it feels good on my brain to try some new things, even if I decide the old way is the best one for me.