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Overcoming Personalization (A Cognitive Distortion)

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Thank you for stopping by for my ongoing positive self-talk seriesSelf-love starts with positive self-talk, and all of that starts with you.  Shifting the way that you think requires the ability to recognize the power of your thoughts.  You can learn to love yourself by changing what you think about yourself and how you talk with yourself.   

We all struggle from time to time with cognitive distortions.  The healthiest person you know will struggle with a little cognitive distortion here and a little exaggeration there.  Doing this here and there won’t have an impact on your mental state in the short term.  However, when you start to do it constantly and become your everyday thinking style, your mental health will suffer. 

What does personalization look like?

It’s believing that you are responsible for things that are actually outside of your control.  Individuals that struggle with personalization may feel a sense of guilt or shame for not being able to control things outside of their control.  Another feature of personalization is taking an event or situation and turning it into something about you when it has nothing to do with you. 

Personalization is a root cause of emotional distress.  It creates a sense of insecurity, anxiety, or imposter syndrome, and you’re just waiting for others to figure out that you’re the problem.    

This can also look similar to (the big three) should, musts and oughts.

This type of thinking is common in people that struggle with anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, low self-worth, and self-criticism. 

Personalization

Here are some examples of personalization. 

Telling yourself when someone else is struggling, “I should have tried harder or done better,” and believing that because you didn’t is why they’re struggling.  Supporting someone who is struggling does not mean that you take their struggles from them.    

OR 

”They must be talking about me,” after having walked into a room and noticing that a group of people suddenly stopped talking.  Perhaps they were discussing something private, or it was just one of those awkward moments when the room goes quiet.     

How this cognitive distortion can be harmful.

Personalization can trigger internal suffering in shame and guilt, like an imposter, anxiety, and depression.  As well as create conflict and hostility with others when you believe that you’re responsible for them.  Or you take an event or situation as a personal attack against you when it’s got nothing to do with you.      

You can also use blaming yourself or others as a form of personalization. For example, blaming yourself and taking responsibility for events outside of your control.  Or blaming others for something you failed to do and your own life events.

When you blame others for your own circumstances it removes responsibility from your shoulders. In essence, it frees you from having to take responsibility for your own life. And is commonly seen in romantic relationships. Such as blaming your spouse for the household debt even though you also played a role in it. By blaming your partner it removes responsibility from your shoulders to also address the debt “it’s not my fault we’re in debt if my partner was better at managing the finances this would have never happened.”          

Personalization and Blame

How to know if you are using personalization in your life. 

You might be if…

You feel responsible for other people’s happiness and their disappointments and struggles.    

OR

You blame others for your lack of happiness and for your disappointments and struggles.       

How to get out and overcoming overgeneralizations. 

  • I.C.E. – and I’m not talking about “in case of emergency.” 

I’m talking about…

Identify the thought that indicates you are personalizing. 

Call it what it is – a cognitive distortion. 

Explore if the thought is valid.  Are you really responsible for their happiness, disappointments, or struggles?  If you’re not responsible, then acknowledge it. Or are you blaming others for things you do have a responsibility to?  

  • Separate your self-worth from the other person’s successes or failures – Strive to stop immediately blaming yourself and ask yourself if personalizing this is rational. 
Feeling Great book by Dr. David D. Burns
Feeling Great

Check out Feeling Great by David D. Burns, MD [affiliate link].  Positive reframing can be used because thoughts create feelings even when we use personalization, resulting in negative thoughts and feelings.  These thoughts and feelings can help inform who we are.  And when reframed can actually be pretty positive and awesome.         

  • Introduce shades of grey into your thinking – Instead of blaming yourself or someone else, you examine all of the possible factors.    

Let me know your thoughts and what strategies have worked for you for overcoming personalization.      

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