Posts filed under ‘CBT’

Stinking Thinking

Photo by Gutter

Changing your thoughts can change your emotions.

We all engage in what CBT practitioners call ‘thought distortions’ (also called ‘stinking thinking’).  Someone at work looks at us strangely and we think ‘They don’t like me’.  We don’t get a job we’re up for and we think ‘I’m a failure’.  We decide to not attend a social function because, ‘I won’t like anyone there.  I won’t have any fun”.  We get lots of compliments on our new haircut but we focus exclusively on the one person who didn’t like it.

Thoughts such as these don’t reflect reality.  They represent our world as seen through a gloom-colored lens.  The reality is that by talking-back to these distorted thoughts, you can improve your mood and begin making healthier decisions.

There are many reasons why we may practice this distorted thinking.  We may be tired or hungry.  We might be suffering from depression, and our brain may not be producing or utilizing serotonin or dopamine correctly.  We may be experiencing the effects of depressants such as alcohol or crashing from stimulants like caffiene, cigarettes or amphetamines.  Normal hormonal shifts in our monthly cycles (men too!) may also affect our thought processes.

So what’s a stinky-thinker to do?  First, we must realize the truth that our thoughts do not always reflect reality.  That’s hard to do as we’re accustomed to relying on our brain to give us valuable information about our environment.  We’re used to seeing a table and having our brain tell us ‘there is a table’, thus preventing us from bruising ourselves as we walk across a room.  But when it comes to more subjective information, it is good to question our first impressions.

Once we’ve accepted that our thoughts are often distorted, we next can begin to identify when we are practicing thought distortions.  A good way to do this is to catch yourself in a bad mood.  When you’re feeling sad, angry, lonely, depressed, or anxious grab a pen & paper and write some of your thoughts down.  Try to get to the heart of why you’re feeling badly. 

Next, start with one of the thoughts you’ve written down and ‘talk-back’ to the thought distortion.  That means you compare your thought to the likely reality of the situation.  This can be difficult to do if you are feeling ‘stuck’ in a mood.  Sometimes it’s easier to think about what you would say to cheer up a friend who was having a rough day.  Here’s some examples.

Distorted Thought – ‘I’ll never get a job I like.’
Talk-back – ‘I’m disappointed because I didn’t get this particular job but I know there are many jobs out there and it’s likely that I’ll find one that makes me happy.  I just need to be patient with the process.’

Distorted Thought – ‘I know if I go to this party I won’t have a good time.’
Talk-back – ‘I might have a good time and I might not.  I certainly won’t know if I don’t go and I certainly won’t have a good time if I go in with a negative attitude.  Sure it’s hard to get out there but the reality is that I often have fun once I get out.’

If you find that you’re having trouble talking-back, then ask a positive friend or your therapist to help you.  Sometimes a more subjective perspective can be invaluable!

Here’s a link to a list of common thought distortions to help you see some of the ways our brains can distort our vision of reality.

Happy Thinking!


April 27, 2008 at 11:54 pm 7 comments


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