You can choose to learn your internal dialogue and find freedom when you change it.
Ah, the little voice in your head. You know the one. It likes to whisper mean and nasty things at you when you’re having a bad day. Heck, it’ll even whisper mean and nasty things at you when you’re having a good day, too, just for the fun of it.
“I can’t do anything right.”
“I suck at (insert anything here).”
“Nothing I do is ever good enough.”
Just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true. We lie to ourselves all the time.
Courageous and Mindful
Self-love starts with positive self-talk, and all of that starts with you. You can learn to love yourself by changing what you think about yourself and how you talk with yourself.
Our circumstances do not have to define us. Because regardless of what happens in life, we have the power to choose our attitude and how we are going to talk ourselves through something.
The Dangers of Cognitive Distortions
Cognitive distortions can take a serious toll on your mental health. And are known to lead to mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, worsen depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, and make social interactions and social anxiety much worse.
If left unchecked, these automatic thought patterns can become your habitual unhelpful ways of thinking. And can influence your rational thinking, core beliefs, and that you are a victim of fate. However, regardless of what happens in life, you always have the power to choose your attitude, and that is your personal responsibility.
Negative internal dialogues lead to negative thoughts or thought patterns, and those lead to negative emotions. So how do you break a destructive cycle?
Know which cognitive distortions you use. The vast majority of people use multiple common cognitive distortions in their everyday life.
Retrain your brain – meaning that you will have to challenge it and make a conscious effort to think differently. The good news is that even small changes in how you think can have a large impact on your daily life.
How to retrain your brain.
First, recognize the cognitive distortion or irrational thoughts.
What were the inaccurate thoughts that are leading you to have a negative view?
We all have unwanted or intrusive thoughts. Even the most successful folks you can think of experience negative automatic thoughts.
However, some people can recognize and dismiss them for what they are (inaccurate thinking) and not pay them any attention.
Ultimately, this is the goal: recognize the thought, dismiss the thought, and not pay them any attention.
Second, get help doing this if you need it. For some folks, these types of thoughts have been with them for a long time and are not easy to dismiss. This is where we reach out for help and utilize the services of a professional. A trained therapist can help you learn how to retrain your brain through cognitive behavioral therapy.
Here are 12 common types of cognitive distortions that lead to cognitive errors.
Seeing things in terms of black or white with little to no shades of grey. You prefer to think in extremes with little to no middle ground.
“I am totally awesome!”
“I am a total failure!”
Is making a broad conclusion based on a single negative event as “proof” of never-ending negativity or failure. If something terrible happens even once, you believe it will repeatedly happen. Thus, this single incident becomes an eternal pattern of defeat.
“I can’t believe I am running late; I can never get anywhere on time.”
Mental filtering is fixating on a single adverse event, paying undue attention, and dwelling on it exclusively while denying or unable to acknowledge contradictory or objective evidence. This can look like the cup half-full scenario.
Such as one low grade on a paper in a class where the individual is passing with a high A and believing “I am a lousy student and a complete failure.”
Or someone walking out and not returning during a presentation you are giving and concluding, “that must have been an awful presentation that I gave,” even though others gave positive feedback.
Refusing to acknowledge positive experiences or positive thinking as though they “do not count” and only acknowledging negative experiences or negative thinking to maintain the belief that everything is negative.
“I did that job well because I got lucky.” But you forgot to mention you’ve been doing it for a while and are actually competent at the job that you do.
Refusing to acknowledge negative events or experiences as though they “do not count” and only acknowledging positive events or experiences or mindsets to maintain the belief that everything is good.
“I should just look on the bright side and be grateful for what I have.” But you forgot to mention you have been pushing aside all the emotional pain you have felt while you put on a brave face and soldier on.
Assuming that you know what another person is thinking without asking them or expecting another person to “just read your mind” and know what you are thinking or feeling.
“I know what you are thinking.”
“You should know what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling.”
Assuming that you know the outcome of a situation as if you possess a crystal ball and allowing those thoughts and feelings to influence your interaction as if it has already come true. This is an extreme form of overgeneralization and looks at the worst-case scenario.
“Ohh, I already know how this is going to play out….”
Much like a microscope, this can magnify or minimize qualities you want to make larger or smaller and offers the ability to distort them and remove them from their original context.
You have researched a speech that you need to give for a presentation. Then, during your presentation, you trip over a couple of words but quickly recover. Afterward, people comment on how great your presentation was. And all you can do is complain about the places where you tripped up and your certainty that you blew the entire presentation.
Your teacher is handing out papers, and you note that you got 100% on yours, thinking, “getting 100% doesn’t mean I’m smart.”
I feel; therefore, it must be true.
The assumption is that your emotional reaction is accurately interpreting the thought and is reflecting how things are. And this can be seen with both positive feelings and negative feelings.
“I am anxious about this interview – it’s going to be bad.”
“I feel really good about this lottery ticket – it must be the winning one.”
The big three are “shoulds, musts, and oughts” and are commonly used in making unrealistic statements that can also carry impractical demands. They often look like a set of rules that govern our lives or a set of rules used to govern other people’s lives. They also tend to cause guilt, anger, frustration, and shame.
“I should be cleaning right now; I shouldn’t be so lazy.”
“I must get this done; I can’t let myself relax until it has been completed.”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
This is a more extreme version of #2 overgeneralization.
Labeling can be used with a negative label or a positive label and attaching a label to yourself or someone else to influence your opinion.
“I am a loser, and that person is perfect.”
“I am perfect, and that person is a loser.”
Mislabeling takes an event out of context and describes it with highly colored language and emotionally charged words. Think about the last time someone cut you off while driving and the colorful words you used to relay the story of it when you told others.
You literally take things personally. You presented yourself as the cause of some event when you were not responsible for influencing the event and have not considered other plausible explanations.
And you may hold other people responsible for your emotional pain. Or you may take on the “blame” for every problem – even those completely outside of your control (i.e., other people’s moods, gas prices, ozone layer, and that massive pothole in the road – to name a few).
“The checkout girl did not smile at me; she must really hate me.”
“The checkout girl smiled at me, I must be the nicest person to her all day, and she recognized how good of a person I am; I am the reason why she smiled.”
A final thought – if you would never talk to a friend like this, then don’t talk to yourself this way.
Here are my top reads for addressing Cognitive Distortions:
“Feeling Great” by David D. Burns MD [affiliate] has an entire section (126 pages) dedicated to these cognitive distortions and how to crush them. Even as a therapist sometimes we get stumped by cognitive distortions. We know what they are and can recognize them when we see them, but we don’t always know what to do with them. Or, more importantly, how to challenge them and create change. David Burns gives real-life examples of challenging these thoughts that have helped me challenge some of my own. His book has also helped me with the folks that I work with within my community.
“Daring Greatly” by Brene’ Brown Ph.D. [affiliate] is THE renowned shame and vulnerability researcher (in my opinion). I have used the contents in this book more times than I can count with folks struggling with shame. It takes courage to challenge what we think and feel and how we have always responded.
To learn about our vulnerability armor and what it does for us whether we recognize it or not. Brene’ Brown also talks about shame resilience. Through the use of shame resilience, we can finally stop doing the shame dance and find the courage to dance to our own beat by changing our relationship with vulnerability, facing our shame triggers, and leading by example.
“Rising Strong,” [affiliate] another great read by Brene’ Brow Ph.D., gives us a different lens from which to view failure.
It is through failure and setbacks that we learn the most about ourselves. Only by seizing control of our own lives can we ever become active participants in our successes and failures. But we must take responsibility for how things turn out – the good, the bad, and everything in between. There are three key lessons in Rising Strong. First, our emotions can’t control us; we cannot succeed until we stop sabotaging ourselves, and success comes down to attitude. Second, until you learn how to get out of your own way, then disappointment and failure may remain your constant companions.