Look After Your
the Mind 2
Last time we began to explore the idea that certain
kinds of thinking can be unhelpful and in fact
detrimental to our emotional wellbeing. These so-called
‘cognitive distortions’ often happen quite automatically
- they are habits that have developed over time. Perhaps
we learned them unwittingly from our parents (in my case
Mum and Dad were dreadful worriers, and I picked up the
tendency to be the same from them through my childhood
and teenage years); though our culture also has a
powerful effect - just look at the sensationalist
headlines that frequently appear in some tabloid
newspapers. Fortunately once we become aware of these
habits we can begin to train ourselves out of them.
Further common unhelpful habits of thought include:
This is where our thoughts automatically jump to the
worst that could possibly happen. Also known as
‘maximising or minimising’, some people tend to
exaggerate the magnitude of trivial events, such as
some minor error we have made, or shrink the
importance of significant issues such as a personal
achievement. Catastrophising can be countered by
deliberately considering a range of possible
outcomes and striving for a sense of balance in
reflecting on issues and events that involve us.
In other words, taking things personally. So we
might pass by some people laughing and think they
are laughing at us. Or we are unavoidably late for a
dinner engagement and feel a sense of blame that we
kept the hosts waiting, or if the food is
overcooked. Again, a calm and deliberate
reassessment of possible causes and ways of reacting
begins to challenge this unhelpful habit of
Taking on other people’s pain.
This is also called a ‘control fallacy’. It shows
itself commonly as a tendency to feel that we are
the helpless victims of fate, creating a kind of
mental inertia that there is nothing we can do about
our circumstances. In other words we feel externally
While this may indeed sometimes be true, it’s always
worth considering whether direct positive action can be
taken to alter the situation.
A variation of the control fallacy is to feel that we
are responsible for other people’s happiness or woe.
This is not the same as empathy (understanding the
feelings of others), but tends rather to be more of a
passive ‘wallowing’ in feelings of guilt or a misplaced
sense of accountability. Calm reflection on the reality
of the situation helps to correct this way of thinking.
More next time.
Click here to read more
articles in the series 'Look After Your Mind' by Steve Bowkett