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Addressing Thought Distortions Part 3: Mind Reading, Labeling, and Catastrophizing.

Mar 25, 2021

Thought distortions, also referred to as “thinking traps”, “cognitive distortions”, and “stinkin’ thinkin’”, are faulty ways of thinking that hold us back, cause us to experience negative emotions, and/or impact our self-esteem and overall confidence. There are many different forms of thought distortions which is why I am writing a series of blog article about them. You can check out Part #1 on the Live Your Best Boss Lady Life Blog HERE, which focuses on Filtering, Overgeneralizations, and Personalization. You can check out Part #2 on the Live Your Best Boss Lady Life Blog HERE, which focuses on Fortune Telling, Black and White Thinking, and “Should” Statements. What is helpful is to understand them, to take the time to notice if your fall into any of these thinking patterns, and then to start to challenge them. If you do notice that you fall into some of these patterns, there is no shame. Most of us do at least some of the time, however, by reading this you will start to be able to recognize the problematic patterns and begin to shift them.


In this article, I will review three additional common thought distortions. Be sure to check out all my blog posts about Thought Distortions on the Live Your Best Boss Lady Life blog. I will offer you suggestions for managing each type of thought distortion so that they no longer hold you back, cause you to experience discomfort, or impact your self-esteem and confidence. I encourage you to take your time and really think about each thought distortion, whether you think you fall into any of them, and how you can apply my suggestions for overcoming them.  Use the worksheet, Overcoming Thought Distortions: Mind Reading, Labeling, and Catastrophizing, I created so that you can get the most out of these activities. You can get it HERE. The key is to challenge these thinking patterns, which will start to force your brain to consider alternatives that work for you, and not against you.


These thought distortions can apply to any area of your life including career, business, relationships, health and wellness, learning new skills, money, etc. If you have multiple thoughts distortions in multiple areas of your life, that is okay. Just go through the same process for each one.


Mind Reading, Labeling, and Catastrophizing.

1. Mind Reading. This can occur with strangers, acquaintances, and with individuals with whom you are close. While sometimes you can make educated assumptions about what someone is thinking, with mind reading, you make negative assumptions or guesses about what someone is thinking without much evidence at all. You don’t allow yourself to consider all possibilities because you jump to a negative thought and assume it to be true. Engaging in this kind of thinking can be anxiety provoking when you default to thinking that others think poorly of you on a regular basis.


How to overcome Mind Reading. The first step is to notice if you do this. Do you tend to assume that people, or that certain people, have negative thoughts about you? If yes, write down a couple of specific examples of who the individuals are, and what thoughts you believe they have. Next, on a scale from 1 – 10, with 1 being none and all and 10 being enough to stand up in a court of law, how much evidence do you have to know that this thought is true? Assuming you are not 100% sure that this is true, what else could they be thinking? Write down as many possibilities as you can. Repeat this over and over, using the worksheet Overcoming Thought Distortions: Mind Reading, Labeling, and Catastrophizing that I created, so that you can start to retrain your brain to see all possibilities and not only the ones that cause you stress, anxiety, and to feel badly about yourself. You can get it HERE.

Example of Mind Reading. You are dating someone you really like, and the relationship is fairly new. You go out to dinner and the other person is more quiet than usual. The next day, you text them and they do not respond for hours. You ask if they want to hang out on Saturday and they tell you that they can’ because they have to work, which is not typical. You then engage in mind reading where you assume that they are no longer as interested in you and that they may be seeing someone else, or they are going to break up with you. If you allow yourself to believe this as the truth, you will feel sad, anxious, worried, and fearful that the relationship will not last.


What you learn a week later is that the person you were dating had an opportunity to work on a big project that needed to get done in a very short period of time and if done successfully, they would receive a substantial bonus that they wanted to use to take you on a nice weekend away. Imagine all the energy you wasted feeling worried and anxious over something that you created in your mind. The other thing to consider that I have seen happen with many of my clients is when they assume the person they are dating is no longer interested in them, they begin to act differently in response to their fear and anxiety. They may begin to call or text more because they are insecure. They may start questioning the other person about what they are doing and why they do not seem interested. This can cause the other person to become frustrated (especially if they are under pressure at work), which only increases the anxiety and the anxious response. The individual engaging in the mind reading starts to create the very thing they are desperately wanting to avoid.


2. Labeling. This type of thought distortion occurs when people put themselves or others in the box of a single characteristic, descriptor, or behavior. One aspect of a person is projected onto the whole person. When you do this with yourself, you take one negative event or aspect and make it define all of you. This can result in negative emotions and in you acting in a way that holds you back. When you do this with someone else, you take one behavior or characteristic you observe and use it to define who they are. Labeling yourself can significantly hold you back or make you feel badly about yourself as a person. Labeling others can negatively impact relationships, cause you to miss out on potential new relationships, or limit your ability to connect with others.


How to overcome Labeling. As is the case with all thought distortions, the first step is to notice that this is happening. If you notice yourself taking one aspect of your personality and making it define all of you, write it down. Next, write down information that gives evidence that this does not define all of who you are as a person. Once you have done this, write down a way of phrasing this that is more accurate and feels better. Identifying something about yourself that you would like to change can be helpful, however, when you make it define all of who you are it can cause significant issues with self-esteem, confidence, and can result in you holding yourself back in life. If you notice yourself doing this with others, write down an instance or two of when you did / do this. Next ask yourself if you know what you wrote down to be 100% true. Is what you wrote down the only way to view this individual? If not, write down other words you could use to define them as a whole person.


Example of Labeling yourself. You think you have been doing well at your job and you apply for a promotion and get a management position. As you move into your new position you take on new responsibilities and are learning all there is to know about the role. You get assigned some new projects which are going well. One of your responsibilities is to run team meetings each week. You are on your third week of meetings and do not feel like they go well. Nobody engages, people show up late, nobody has questions, and it feels like nobody wants to be there. You can’t stop thinking about this and you tell yourself you are not a good manager. Instead of identifying that you need to develop some skills for running more effective meetings, you tell yourself that you are bad at all aspects of being a manager. If you continue to think like this, you may just prove yourself right!


Example of Labeling someone else. You are at a social / networking event and you notice a woman who is very well dressed and who seems to be the life of the party. You assume that she thinks she is too good for you, so you don’t make any effort to go up to her and get to know her. You are there because you have just opened up a small boutique in the community with unique clothing and gifts and want to get to know some other local women. Three months later, this same woman walks into your boutique and you notice her right away. She ends up spending $500 on unique home decor items. When she is checking out, she tells you she can’t believe she has never come into your store before. She is a local, high-end realtor and is always looking for unique gifts for people who buy homes from her. She tells you that she will be buying all her new homeowner gifts from you and telling the homeowners to visit your store as they are decorating their new home. This individual who you labeled as “too good for you” becomes one of your biggest fans and promoters of your business…3 months later than she would have if you had not labeled her and avoided her at the networking event.


3. Catastrophizing. You experience this thought distortion when you assume the worst-case scenario will occur when you are faced with uncertain situations. Instead of seeing all possibilities, you will only see the negative outcomes that could occur (even if they are very unlikely to occur) and as a result, assume that the situation will end up being a disaster / catastrophe. When you do this, you will experience negative emotions and it will also impact the way you act, which may actually increase the chance of a negative outcome.


How to overcome Catastrophizing. The first thing to do it to notice that you are having these thoughts. Are there situations you can think of where you automatically think the worst-case scenario? Write down the situation and the disastrous outcome you fear. Next, on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 1 being not at all and 10 being definitely), write down how likely it is that this catastrophic outcome will occur. Then, write down other options for how the situation could play out? Repeat this exercise over and over. Doing this will help you see all possible outcomes, not only the negative ones, which will change the way you approach situations and will increase the chance that you will get a favorable outcome.


Example of Catastrophizing. You have been struggling with anxiety and have had a couple of panic attacks which scare you and are very uncomfortable. Your friends want to go out to eat to celebrate your friend’s birthday, however, you start thinking about your anxiety and are worried about what would happen if you had a panic attack in the restaurant. Your mind starts racing about having anxiety and having a panic attack while sitting at the table. You begin to have more anxiety about having anxiety and decide to stay home. In this example, you do not allow yourself to consider going out to dinner with friends and having a great, relaxing time. You don’t allow yourself to consider that you could manage having some anxiety while out surrounded with friends. You don’t allow yourself to consider that even if a panic attack did occur, that you could manage it. Thinking like this could cause you to miss out on a lot of things in life.


Be sure to check my first Thought Distortion article HERE, and my second Thought Distortion article HERE. Understanding each of them and learning how to manage your mind when they come into play, can be life changing. It can result in you feeling much better and it can also change the outcomes you are getting in your life. Use this worksheet to help you go through each thought distortion in this article so that you get the most out of this information and see the best results in addressing any thought distortions you may be experiencing.


Live your best boss lady life.

~ Karen

Karen Vincent Solutions

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