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Don’t Let Negative Thoughts Define You

“My marriage has fallen apart…I must be a failure as a spouse.” Perhaps that thought that has run through your head while enduring the divorce process. These intrusive thoughts have a name: cognitive distortion. They are inaccurate, overly broad thoughts that reinforce negative thinking. It is thought that people developed these distortions as a coping mechanism for negative events they experience. An interesting evolutionary theory suggests that early in human history it was a useful shortcut to analyzing for threats, thereby increasing the likelihood of survival. Obviously in the modern age, this quick-thinking threat analysis has much reduced benefit. Some common types of distortions are below:

Overgeneralization involves drawing a general conclusion about one’s ability, performance, or worth on the basis of a single incident. One singular event does not define your ability as a whole nor your future experiences. If you fail one math test, it does not mean you are unable to do math in general.

Catastrophizing is when ordinary worries are escalated to worst possible scenarios. It is sometimes dismissed as blowing things out of proportion, and these thought patterns can develop as a result of a past trauma. Suppose you are meeting someone for lunch and they are late. Someone who catastrophizes does not think of a rational reason, such as traffic, but will imagine something like, “She’s been in an accident,” or “I’m being stood up because I’m a loser.”

Jumping to conclusions is when you arrive at a negative conclusion based upon very little evidence. This can often be applied to thoughts about what other people are thinking about you, a term called mind reading. If your best friend does not text you back immediately when she usually does, the jumped conclusion would be that she was somehow upset or angry with you. There is no evidence to support this.

There are many other types of distortions that invade our thoughts. The best way to combat them is to seek professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapies are aimed at recognizing and dealing with cognitive distortions. Separation and divorce can sometimes be ugly and contested, and feelings of doubt, self-worth, and ability can surface. It takes more than one person for a marriage to fall apart. Be sure to spend some time on your mental health during the process.