Monday, June 18, 2007

Re-Thinking Our Thinking

Written by Ms. Em from The Eating Disorders Survivors Club

When we have difficulty getting thoughts out of our head, it remarkably has to do with our ability to focus and be present. Often, the thoughts which race through our minds, the ones which we can't get out of our heads are actually cognitive distortions.

I remember walking into an eating disorder program and looking over my shoulder to see a big sheet of paper with the heading; Common Cognitive Distortions. As I started reading through each error/distortion I nearly fell off of my chair.

Cue: Ten enviornmentally friendly light bulbs flashing over my head and some fireworks accompanied by Beethoven's Ode to Joy .

I looked at the counselor and asked, "Is this a joke? Are these really psychologically-based definitions?"
(Yes, those were my words. I did get a degree in psychology/psychological jargon).

'S' replied, "Yes. It's fairly common for people with an eating disorder to unknowingly use cognitive distortions on a daily basis."
(Ann, not sure if you were there that day! *smiling*)

Learning that these Cognitive Distortions were logical but not rational was liberating. How many things I misperceived due to distorted thinking?!?

I used to carry a copy of these distortions with me. When my mind was spiraling at 150 mph, they reminded me that:

1) NO, I am not crazy.
2) My feelings ARE valid.
3) I can't change my feelings, but I can change the way I process them.

In hopes they provide you the same comfort and insight they afforded me, I offer you...

The Top 10 Cognitive Disortions

You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see your self as a total failure.
(Note: I'm only using the "F" word b/c it's part of the definition. It's still banned).

You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.

You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.

You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.

You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don't bother to check this out

You can anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.

You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or other fellow's imperfections). This is also called the binocular trick."

You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."

You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldn't, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
(Note: Thus, my banning of this and similar phrases).

This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. "I'm a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him" "He's a Goddamn louse." Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.

You see your self as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Sometimes, we can find comfort in knowing that the thoughts which are reverberating through our mind are errors in thinking. Understanding this has always provided me a sense of calm. I hope it affords you the same sense of peace.

By: Ms. Em

Founder: The Eating Disorder Survivors Club

The Eating Disorder Survivors Club is a health & wellness support group and self-help resource for those struggling to break free of eating disorders and addictions so that they can live the best life possible; the life they deserve!


Lill said...

Hmm, I can see where three of these things are something I need to watch out for. Most of them show up in my dd's thinking when she gets anxious. So should I be worried that she'll have an eating disorder? She already thinks she's fat and she's only 9. She's moderately overweight, but not fat and she's active. Some girls at school, two years ago, told her she was fat and she's been obssessing about it ever since, even though she hasn't gone to school for over a year. We unschool. Any recommendations?
Shine On,

ms. em said...

Hi lil,

I would suggest reaching out to an eating disorder specialist to address your concerns.

I am someone who has survived an eating disorder. I must defer to the "experts" about your precious daughters current behaviors/pre-occupation with weight. She is so fortunate to have such a wonderful, caring mother!

Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness. It's so important that more people are aware of this fact. I don't think one can ever be too careful when it comes to eating disorders.

Please feel free to visit my blog at:

If you go to the section titled ED Resources there are some helpful links to valuable information.

My very best to both you and your daughter.

With care,
ms. em

Arizaphale said...

Ms Em
Thank you for this post. It is the mantra of anyone with an addictive personality.

Do you always sleep with the wrong men?

Is your credit card owning you?

Is the bottle of sauvignon blanc a panacea for the ills of the week/day?

Can you not be creative without quick bong?

Can you not stop smoking?

Can you not stop your employees walking all over you?

Do you need to swim further and faster than the other recreational swimmers at the local pool?

There are so many versions of the addictive personalty and they all suffer from the 10 Cognitive Distortions.

For all of us who dally struggle with any one of these it's worth having them to refer to. Self checking and self monitoring are a sign of positive growth and if you can see your behaviour falling into any of these categories, take that 'voice in your head' the one that tells you you're 'no good' or 'you're to blame' and give it a good shake. Then walk on with a high head and a light heart and the knowledge that you are exactly as God intended you to be.
Rock On Ms Em

Mama Zen said...


ms. em said...

hi arizaphale,
thank you so much for your thoughtful and kind comment!

i love this, which you wrote:

"if you can see your behaviour falling into any of these categories, take that 'voice in your head' the one that tells you you're 'no good' or 'you're to blame' and give it a good shake."

so true.

thank you for this!

with hope,
ms. em

ms. em said...

hi mama zen,

agreed! it was a jaw dropping - big sigh of relief moment, when i discovered these!

with hope,

ms. em

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