Thoughts hold the key to many types of anxiety! It is how we think about things that defines them as problems or not. Anxiety thrives on distorted thinking. In this series of blogs we are going to explore 15 types of distorted thinking. The topic for this first blog is “filtering”.
“All I could see was negative everywhere. Every time I was given the slightest criticism I couldn’t see the good in anything that I had done that day. It was all doom and gloom. If I made the slightest mistake I was the worst person who ever lived. No body told me this, they didn’t need to, I told myself!”
Feeling like this can be normal, sometimes for reasons hard to locate we can feel more negative, critical, black and white or definite. Although we can all go through this, long term thinking like this can make us rigid, miserable and anxious!
Thoughts have a huge impact on how we feel physically and emotionally and on how we behave. Negative thought distortions can be so common that nearly everyone does some of them. Yet, in combination or if drawn out they can lead to severe anxiety and depression.
This blog post and those that follow will help readers identify twisted thinking and help them with rational comebacks to dis-identify from those thoughts. While readers may not see themselves in every thinking style they may see others or partially identify. Read the rational comeback for helpful tips.
This distortion is characterized by a sort of tunnel vision – looking at only one element of a situation to the exclusion of everything else. A single detail is picked out and the whole event or situation is coloured by this detail. A carpenter who was uncomfortable with criticism was praised for the quality of his recent detail drawings and asked if he could get the next job out a little quicker. He went home depressed, having decided that his employer thought he was dawdling. He selected only one component of the conversation to respond to. He simply didn’t hear the praise in his fear of possible deficiency.
Each person has his own particular tunnel to look through. Some are hypersensitive to anything suggesting loss, and blind to any indication of gain. For others, the slightest possibility of danger sticks out like a barb in a scene that is otherwise warm with contentment. Depressed people select elements suggesting loss from their environment, those prone to anxiety select danger, and those who frequently feel angry select evidence of injustice.
The process of remembering can also be very selective. From our entire history and stock of experiences, habitually we may remember only certain kinds of events. As a result, we may review our past and re-experience memories that characteristically leave us angry, anxious, or depressed.
By the very process of filtering we then magnify and ‘awfulize’ our thoughts. When one pulls negative things out of context, isolated from all the good experiences around us, we make them larger and more awful than they really are. The end result is that all our fears, losses, and irritations become exaggerated in importance because they fill our awareness to the exclusion of everything else. Key words for this kind of filtering are ‘terrible…awful…disgusting…horrendous’, and so on. A key phrase is ‘I can’t stand it’. This is really bad for us as it creates general anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks and may make PTSD, OCD and Phobias worse!
Filtering comeback Shift focus
No need to magnify
Filtering is being stuck in a mental groove, focusing on things from the environment that typically tend to frighten, sadden, or anger us. To conquer filtering it is necessary to deliberately shift focus. We can shift focus in two ways: First, place the attention on coping strategies to deal with the problem rather than obsessing about the problem itself. Second, categorize the primary mental theme as: Loss, Injustice, etc. If the theme is loss, focus instead on what is present in life of value. If the theme is danger, focus on things in the environment that represent comfort and safety. If the theme is injustice (including stupidity, incompetence, etc.), shift the attention to what people do that does meet with approval.
When we are filtering we usually end up magnifying the problems. To combat magnifying, stop using words like terrible, awful, disgusting, horrendous, etc. In particular, banish the phrase ‘I can’t stand it’. we can stand it, because history shows that human beings can survive almost any psychological blow and can endure incredible physical pain. We can get used to and cope with almost anything. Try saying phrases such as ‘No need to magnify’ and ‘I can cope’.
Filtering is one of 15 common types of distorted thinking. In our next blog we will be discussing Polarized thinking. If curious about anxiety please feel free to visit our website, take our anxiety quiz or get anxiety help. On this page we will continue to write about Anxiety and related topics. We are always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help: 087 063 0948.
Team Anxiety Ireland