CBT Thinking Errors Part 3: Changing Our Thoughts- Disqualifying the Positive and Overgeneralization
As explored in the previous blog posts in this series, a thinking error is an inaccurate or irrational way of thinking that can lead to negative emotions and maladaptive behaviors. In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), thinking errors are identified and addressed through cognitive restructuring. This involves identifying the thinking error, challenging the thoughts that led to the error, and replacing them with more accurate, rational thoughts.
In this blog post, we will continue to review ways of challenging and restructuring our negative thought patterns that interfere with our sense of well-being. In this blog post we will review ways of managing tendencies to disqualify the positive and overgeneralize.
Disqualifying the Positive
Disqualifying the positive is a cognitive distortion in which we discount or dismiss any evidence that contradicts our negative views of ourselves or the world. When something good happens, we often find a way to dismiss it. We tell ourselves that it was just a fluke, or that it doesn’t really count. We downplay our accomplishments and focus on our mistakes. We do this because we want to be realistic, and because we don’t want to get our hopes up. We don’t want to be disappointed if things don’t go our way.
But by doing this, we are actually disqualifying the positive. We are dismissing all of the good that is happening, and we are preventing ourselves from achieving our goals. For example, if we think we’re useless and stupid, we might dismiss any evidence that contradicts this view, such as getting a good grade on a test or receiving a compliment from a friend. When we disqualify the positive, we often have a tendency to disregard any evidence that points to our success or happiness in order to maintain our negative self-view.
It is important for us to be mindful of our thoughts and recognize when we are focusing too heavily on the negative or ignoring what may be valuable for seeing the full picture of the experience. The first step is to be aware of when you’re disqualifying the positive. Once you know what to look for, it’ll be easier to catch yourself in the act and make a change. We can start by recognizing the positive things that happened today, no matter how small they may be. It can also be helpful to create a list of things you’re grateful for and allow yourself to identify your role in contributing to and/or maintaining these successes, positive outcomes or favorable circumstances in your life.
Overgeneralizing is a type of cognitive distortion that involves viewing events in a black-and-white fashion, often causing us to make inaccurate assumptions about people or situations. For example, if you experience one negative event, you might start to believe that all of your relationships are doomed, or that you’re just not cut out for the job.
In order to prevent overgeneralized thoughts, it is important to bring awareness to moments when we add labels or judgments to a situation, experience, or to a person’s character/abilities, even our own. Notice when you use the words ‘always’ or ‘never’, as often these can lead to overgeneralized statements. You can replace overgeneralized thoughts with positive self-talk and realistic language.
It may be important to also remember that in life there are opportunities for learning even in moments where we might not meet our or another person’s expectations. Allow yourself to focus on areas of growth rather than weaknesses and incorporate the idea that you are ever changing. Your abilities and circumstances are ever changing.
In our final blog post in the series, we will review ways of reducing and overcoming fortune telling, personalization, and mind reading cognitive distortions.
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