By: Marilyn L. Davis
Stinking Thinking is Everywhere
“You can’t imagine just how much believing in negative thoughts is affecting your life… until you stop.” ~Charles F. Glassman
In meetings, we’ll hear people talk about Stinking Thinking and know they’re talking about the faulty logic or the negative thoughts.
But what is Stinking Thinking that gets us in trouble, causes us to view the world through a distorted lens, or just doesn’t make sense when we analyze the thoughts?
Cognitive distortions are the thinking patterns that have developed over time that cause our misperceptions. Some of these distortions cause us to interpret reality in a harmful way, towards either ourselves or others. Some of us have predictable distortions and automatically use them just as we pick blue over red in our choice of clothing.
8 Types of Stinking Thinking
The distortions are easily categorized and when we learn to find them, we can change them. Sometimes it’s as easy (and hard) as learning to perceive the glass as half full and not half empty. When we recognize the faulty thinking and negative perceptions, we can make the effort to change. That’s one of the blessings of recovery.
So, what are the distortions and how do they show up in our lives?
1. Overgeneralization creates a false picture of reality by taking one fact or event and making a general rule out of it. You then do not bother to verify the truth of your thinking. From an isolated situation where you were not successful, you create the impression of yourself that you will always fail. You will know that you are over-generalizing when you think in absolutes. Clue words for over-generalization include:
- No one
A better way of thinking would be “Sometimes I have not been successful” and not, “I am never successful.” Over-generalization can fuel self-pity – stating “I’m the only person in treatment or recovery without a supportive family” is not valid but “Some of the people in the program have supportive families” is.
2. Global labeling creates stereotypes by labeling whole groups of people, behaviors, and experiences. Global labeling is typically negative. Examples of global labeling:
- I’m just an addict (as the only way you describe yourself)
- A job as “the Treadmill”
- Just a cashier
- I am stupid, when you do not understand something, but are not “stupid” about other subjects.
- They are irresponsible (when referring to an entire group of people; not taking into account that some of them are irresponsible but others are hard-working)
3. Filtering only allows us to view the world through rejection, loss, or situations that seem unfair; a tendency to view our world only through the negative and discarding anything positive, or viewing our world, actions, behaviors, and feelings distorted on the positive side. For example, “I never get any compliments here. It is always about the negative stuff I have done. If only I would be praised, just once, I would feel better about myself.”
There are several cognitive distortions in this statement—over-generalization, personalization, and filtering.
Just a day before, this person had been “praised” for their written work. Group members only asked him to elaborate on his answers, no one criticized what he had written. Instead of realizing that the work was 99% on track, he filtered the questions and heard that his answers were wrong, and chose to focus on this aspect when asked for clarification.
Filtering only the Positive
If we reverse the above example, then this person would have only focused on the 99% that they did well, and discounted the 1% that was incomplete. They would have filtered out any questions about their assignment.
4. Polarized or All or Nothing Thinking does not take into account that people are
neither “good” nor “bad.” They are sometimes good and sometimes bad. They
do not ultimately succeed or fail. They usually are successful at certain things and not at others or they have some success and some failures. Polarized thinking is like standing at one end of the football field or the other.One end of the field is good, the other is bad when the reality is that most of us are somewhere in the middle. Some days, we are not our best selves.
5. Self-blaming means that you blame yourself for everything. If you find that you say, “I’m sorry, it’s my fault,” even when you doubt the words, that’s a form of self-blame. Did you get blamed a lot in the past? Did people tell you that you were responsible for everything? That’s probably not true, even though you are responsible for your life choices.
Or, it can even be a manipulative ploy to get others to start praising you and negating your apologies.
6. Personalization creates the distortion that you are the center of the universe. You think that everything has something to do with you. Someone starts sharing about their life and you jump right in with your own examples of the same thing.
Or the time you decided that you wanted to go out to dinner and then see a movie. Your spouse does not want to leave the house for any reason. You may decide, “Nobody ever wants to do what I want to do.” This would be an example of overgeneralization and personalization.
Perhaps your spouse is sick. Perhaps they need a good night’s sleep because they have an important meeting tomorrow. Neither of those reasons has anything to do with you.
7. Mind-reading assumes that the rest of the world thinks, reacts, and feels like you do; therefore, you can read their minds because it is just like yours.
Mind reading creates assumptions about others based on your perceptions – not their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
When you find yourself mind-reading or assuming, simply ask someone exactly what he or she meant by what they said or did so you are clear about their intentions, not your best guess.
8. Emotional reasoning forces you to make decisions based on how you feel and not using your feelings and your brain to make decisions.
For instance, someone confronts you in the group and you feel trapped and embarrassed, and your inclination is to run away from these feelings. Therefore, you storm out of the group, saying, “I won’t look at this stuff, it’s too painful.” You felt trapped, cornered and exposed.
You grab your belongings and leave, with no direction, nowhere to go, and knowing that you face the consequences if you do not complete treatment. However, you felt these things and had to get away from the feelings!
You did not once think about the bigger picture, you let your emotions dictate what action to take, and your emotions aren’t the only criteria for making decisions—your thinking needs to be part of your decision-making as well.
Fearful situations create Emotional Reasoning as well. You are anxious about a test, you begin to magnify the anxiety with statements about how little you know about the subject; you start thinking that you are the dumbest one in the class, and your anxiety just soars through the roof. Regroup – do you know the material? Let someone ask you questions and as you answer him or her correctly, you may feel your anxiety lessen. Asking others for their comments can help you put your opinions into perspective.
Recovery: Stop the Use and The Stinking Thinking
Recovery gives us an opportunity to learn new skills, attitudes, and actions, but it is also a time to unlearn the self-defeating patterns of your thinking. Learn to be open-minded and receptive to new alternative ways of thinking, besides the stinking variety.
Early recovery teaches us many things besides how not to use drugs and alcohol and one of the most important things we can learn is to review and change that Stinking Thinking.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart
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