Both David Burns (bestselling author of “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” and Abraham Low (founder of Recovery, Inc.) teach techniques to analyze negative thoughts (or identify distorted thinking — what psychologists call “cognitive distortions”) so to be able to disarm and defeat them. This is one of the major precepts of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Since Low’s language is a bit out-dated, I list below Burns’ “Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking,” (adapted from his “Feeling Good” book, a classic read) categories of dangerous ruminations, that when identified and brought into your consciousness, lose their power over you. They have been helpful in my recovery from depression and anxiety. After I identify them, I consult his 15 Ways to Untwist Your Thinking.
1. All-or-nothing thinking (a.k.a. my brain and the Vatican’s): You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.
2. Overgeneralization (also a favorite): You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
3. Mental filter: You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.
4. Discounting the positives: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count (my college diploma was stroke of luck…really, it was).
5. Jumping to conclusions (loves alcoholic families): You conclude things are bad without any definite evidence. These include mind-reading (assuming that people are reacting negatively to you) and fortune-telling (predicting that things will turn out badly).
6. Magnification or minimization: You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance.
7. Emotional reasoning: You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I must be one.”
8. “Should” statements (every other word for me): You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “musts,” “oughts,” and “have-tos.”
9. Labeling: Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk” or “I’m a loser.”
10. Blame: You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that you contributed to a problem.