[Continuing my series on some of David Burns cognitive distortions. It helps me to really see them for what they are and how I apply them to my thinking. Hopefully you may have a “me too!” moment.]
I think our society is getting worse about this distorting heuristic, because we are continually building up a tolerance for mean-spirited and extreme language; consequently, our perceptions follow that language, our beliefs follow those perceptions, and so on.
“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” is intuitive and common enough to know what this distortion is about, but it becomes an even more sophisticated weapon. It goes beyond fear and worrying to enable humans to continue to keep people and things in the boxes they have mentally put them in, and then can go on with their regularly scheduled program. Lemme ‘splain.
Distorting certain aspects of a particular situation or memory of a situation such that they do not respond to objective reality is an easy way to incapacitate ourselves. They either inflate these aspects to make them more significant and powerful than they really are (Magnification), or they downplay aspects to make them less significant (Minimization).
We all just went through another Christmas, in one way or another. I think this Distortion is implemented heavily at Christmas time. How often have you had a family member tell you to remember, or forget, about a certain state of affairs simply “Because it’s Christmas”?
You: I don’t want to be around that Uncle. He is abusive, unrepentant, and brings everybody down.
Them: It’s Christmas, sweetie. Let it go this one day. Nobody wants to be around bitterness.
Feel free to leave your own example in the comments. 😉 How about this one?
You: How am I supposed to be thankful that you bought me sugar cookies. I’m diabetic.
Them: Oh, well, hey, at least I remembered to get you something this year. That’s progress!
Catastrophizing–focusing on the worst possible outcome, when really it’s just something uncomfortable–accompanies a lot of hand-wringing. I begin with a what if and then picture it playing out in my imagination, and then it just proceeds down the suckward slide (as one blogger put it.) “What will I do? Then they’ll be pissed. Then I’ll feel like crap. Then I’ll have guilt. Then they will tell their family and…” you get the picture.
Once again, the truth is always the best way to go. Maybe I can’t NOT imagine a catastrophe, but I CAN look at the situation and state what is really happening. I can’t even observe most of the stuff I’m worried about anyway! If I can keep that focus perhaps I can let go of my hangups and finally start making decisions.