Webb Therapy Uncategorized What we think about, we bring about.

What we think about, we bring about.

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Cognitive (thinking) ErrorsCognitive (thinking) Errors

Well, hello and good morning, afternoon, and evening readers. I truly hope you’re swimming in the pleasantries of life rather than keeping your head above water in the unpleasant swamp. HOPE = Hold On Pain Ends. And there’s generally a learning or personal growth that comes after the storm of every painful experience, even if it’s simply greater empathy and compassion for others.

Today’s the day to learn or remember the fallacies of the human mind. I am not as smart as I look, haha. Have you heard of heuristics before? In cognitive psychology, a heuristic is a mental “shortcut” that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. They can be very helpful in many situations, but they can also lead to cognitive biases, errors in thinking, and even perhaps without the mental shortcut, our thinking is often filled to the brim with cognitive distortions, assumptions and fallacies (faults). Awareness raising is probably the first step to identify our own cognitive traps and also identify them in others. Cognitive errors are natural – we all have them. Below are some cognitive distortions/errors to be aware of when we reflect on our interactions with people, during personal reflection, and when making meaningful decisions or judgements.

  • ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING (aka. POLARISED THINKING, SPLITTING, and BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING: is extreme thinking i.e., the error in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism. Before you think “I must have really shitty thinking because I do this ALL the time”, give yourself a break. If you’re thinking in black and white, you probably internalised this from social media, television and movies, your family of origin and the broader society. Be mindful of using extreme, dichotomist terms, such as “failure”, “success”, “best”, “worst”, “freezing”, “boiling”, “everything”, and “nothing”. If you think “I’m a terrible person”, that is bullshit and inaccurate. You may have behaved terribly for a period of time towards yourself, to someone else, or towards some “thing”, but we cannot discount all the NON-terrible qualities about you. We must THINK in DIALECTICS i.e., the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives with reason and wisdom or in other words being able to have two contradictory viewpoints, where a greater truth emerges from their interplay. The truth is, if you think you’re a terrible person, there’s also virtuous person in there too.
  • OVERGENERALISTION: The words “always”, “every” and “never” come into play here, and you have an unshakable “rule” or “conviction” about yourself, something, or someone, based on one or two incidences. Overgeneralising is “a cognitive distortion in which an individual views a single event as an invariable RULE, so that, for example, failure at accomplishing one task will predict an endless pattern of defeat in all tasks.” Coming into the present moment and being specific can be helpful if you are someone who overgeneralises. You may also want to ask yourself if what your saying is the really the truth. Is it really accurate or correct. There’s an assumption that because something has happened once or a few times that it’s like going to happen every time. Remember, the words “always”, “every”, and “never” frequently appear in this cognitive “trap”. I encourage you to look at the big picture and ask yourself if what you’re saying or thinking is accurate. Overgeneralisations tend to be vague and board statements e.g., “I always get every red light”. Perhaps this is part of our evolutionary negativity bias. We tend to notice the so-called “bad” and overlook the so-called “good”. If you find yourself using overgeneralisations that suggest a future prediction (e.g., “I’ll never get a partner) … use some humour – you may have big balls but neither one of them are crystal – VEEP. If there is some truth to unusually frequent and specific situations that are making your life unpleasant, validate them, talk to someone, and brainstorm some solutions. We humans have plenty of blind spots that others can see sometimes.

  • MENTAL FILTER: is considered to be the opposite to OVERGENERALISATION the mental filter takes one small event and focuses on it exclusively, filtering out anything else that’s relevant. Filtering out the positive and focusing on the negative can have a detrimental impact on your mental well-being. Filtering out the so-called “negative” can also make one a bit hubris (excessive pride or self-confidence), arrogant, vain and conceited – and then you’re just a stone’s throw away from narcissism.

  • PERSONALISATION AND BLAME: Personalization and blame is a cognitive distortion whereby you entirely blame yourself, or someone else, for a situation that in reality involved many factors that were out of your control. I think this is a symptom of our wounded ego, or simply just the ego. As human’s we are egocentric, like children, and we often think that circumstances in our environment are solely because of our influence. For example, your friend isn’t behaving like they usually do, so it must be because you have done something.

Again, personalisation is an egocentric error in cognition. “Of course it has to do with me”, we think. It makes sense that we personalise things. We are the star of our own show, our own narrative. If you personalise something, it means we’ve directly influenced it – we are the primary cause. This may elicit internal pain, shame or guilt, so what’s the pay-off? Personalisation is a cognitive error that offers us the illusion of control e.g., “If we caused it then we will learn how to not cause it again, and maybe even undo what we have caused”. If you think about it, personalising something is something children do. Remember, there are infinite variables in any situation to take full credit of the outcome. That being said, it is responsible and mature to reflect objectively on the influence of our behaviour and what we can learn about our shortcomings.

Blame deserves it’s own blog post but in short, it can be defined as a defence mechanism to protect the self from feeling some unwanted emotion or thinking something unacceptable in relation to the “self”. Blaming provides a way of devaluing others, an the pay-off or reinforcement the blamer receives is a sense of superiority. It protects our ego from feeling responsible for something, and protects us from feeling guilt or shame. Perfectionists are very good at blaming others, and themselves. Even if you genuinely think faulting someone or something is valid, remember that no one is perfect. Recognise that you are human and others are fallible humans. As they say in recovery, “there is a bit of bad in the best of us and a bit of good in the worst of us“. We may have internalised from society and culture that we couldn’t make mistakes (because we receive “punishment” for making mistakes) but we must move beyond that now. As adults, we need to get real. Validate your experience because it may be very disappointing when we don’t meet others or our own expectations. We must nurture and care for the wounded child. Lets attend and befriend to our shortcomings and accept we are not superhuman. Learn to expect you will make mistakes. Failure is kind of an illusion, isn’t it? Or maybe a social construct? “Failure” is really learning – replace ‘failure’ with the word ‘feedback’. Would a cat or dog blame them self for a “mistake”? In the minds of animals, there’s no such concept as failure or a mistake.

Here’s a link to website “simplypsychology” that discusses a theory called Attribution Theory, an idea about how people explain the causes of behaviour and events: Attribution Theory – Situational vs Dispositional | Simply Psychology

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

I was recently browsing some of the units I completed for my counselling diploma – for revision. The human memory has not evolved to store, organise, categorise and recall all the large amounts of information we collect every day, nor is our memory always accurate. It’s important for counsellors and therapists to keep up to date with new approaches to counselling, and it doesn’t hurt to read over learned materials from college days. I thought I’d provide some learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for readers.

Just to acknowledge the work of others, most of what is written below, I have retrieved and paraphrased from ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT THERAPY Published by: Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors Pty Ltd.

Acceptance and commitment therapy, known as ACT (pronounced as the word ‘act’), is an approach to counselling that was originally developed in the early 1980s by Steven C. Hayes, and became popular in the early 2000’s through Hayes’ collaboration with Kelly G. Wilson, and Kirk Strosahl as well as through the work of Russ Harris. You can look them up on Youtube or Google if you’re interested in what they might have to say about ACT.

“Unlike more traditional cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) approaches, ACT does not
seek to change the form or frequency of people’s unwanted thoughts and emotions. Rather,
the principal goal of ACT is to cultivate psychological flexibility, which refers to the ability to
contact the present moment, and based on what the situation affords, to change or persist
with behaviour in accordance with one’s personal values. To put it another way, ACT
focuses on helping people to live more rewarding lives even in the presence of undesirable
thoughts, emotions, and sensations.”

(Flaxman, Blackledge & Bond, 2011, p. vii)

ACT interventions tend to focus around two main processes:

  • Developing acceptance of unwanted private experiences that are outside of personal
    control.
  • Commitment and action toward living a valued life (Harris, 2009)

In a nutshell, ACT gets its name from its core ideas of accepting what is outside of your personal control and committing to action that improves and enriches your life.

Cognitive Defusion is the process of learning to detach ourselves from our thought processes and simply observe them for what they are – “transient private events – an ever-changing stream of words, sounds and pictures” (Harris, 2006, p. 6). I think this component of ACT is incredibly beneficial if we practice it daily. I like to say, just like the function of the heart is to pump oxygenated blood around the body, one of the brain’s functions is to have thoughts. We can observe thoughts without taking them to mean more than what they are. Some thoughts are automatic, some are subconscious, and some are unconscious or preconscious beliefs that we consider to be true and factual and “rules” about how the world operates and how we have to operate in it. If someone is defused from their thought processes, these processes do not have control on the person; instead the person is able to simply observe them without getting caught up in them or feel the need to change/control them.

Acceptance is the process of opening oneself up and “making room for unpleasant feelings, sensations, urges, and other private experiences; allowing them to come and go without struggling with them, running from them, or giving them undue attention” (Harris, 2006, p. 7). Practicing acceptance is important because it encourages the individual to develop an ability and willingness to feel uncomfortable without being overwhelmed by it (Flaxman, Blackledge & Bond, 2011). It’s important to acknowledge that to accept something doesn’t mean we like it or have a passive attitude. It is to accept something exactly as it is and then we choose what to do with it. Think of the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Contact with the present moment is the concept of being “psychologically present” and bringing full attention to the “here-and-now” experience (Harris, 2009). I’d also argue that to psychologically present, we must also be aware of our physical body and the sensations within it and outside of it. Because we have the ability to think about the past and about the future, sometimes it can be difficult to stay in the present (Batten, 2011; Harris, 2009). Having contact with the present moment is essential because that it where we find out anchor and power. We have the ability to pay attention in a flexible manner to the present moment and connect with that experience rather than ruminate on past events or future possibilities (Lloyd & Bond, 2015). Some of you might say “What if I can’t stand the present moment?”. True. If you have extreme emotional experiences or have a history of trauma, it may be functional for you to use distraction or talking to someone when the present moment is “too much to take”. What we want to work towards is using healthy coping strategies in the present moment mindfully, instead of behaviours that no longer serve us.

Values, and identifying them, (i.e., what is important to the individual) is a central element of ACT because it assists clients to move in the direction of living and creating a meaningful life. One of the central goals of ACT is to help clients to connect with the things they value most and to travel in “valued directions” (Stoddard & Afari, 2014).

Committed action is the process of taking steps towards one’s values even in the presence of unpleasant thoughts and feelings (Harris, 2009). Behavioural interventions, such as goal setting, exposure, behavioural activation, and skills training, are generally used to create committed action. The ACT model acknowledges that learning is not enough, one must also take action to create change.

Self-as-context, or what I prefer to call “the observing self” or simply just our self-awareness, creates a distinction between the ‘thinking self’ and the ‘observing self’ (Harris, 2009). The thinking self refers to the self that generates thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgments, fantasies, and plans, whereas the observing self is the self that is aware of what we think, feel, sense, or do (Harris, 2009). “From this perspective, you are not your thoughts and feelings; rather, you are the context or arena in which they unfold” (Stoddard & Afari, 2014). Being aware of the observing self allows an individual to have a greater ability to be mindful and in the present moment, as they can separate themselves from the thoughts, beliefs, and memories they have.

Be Good To Yourself: The ACT Matrix | Therapy worksheets, Therapy quotes,  Psychology quotes