As a cognitive behavioural therapist (in training currently) and as a counsellor, I am trained to spot distorted versions of reality in my clients. Often, these distorted views create immense anxiety and depression and once these distortions are identified, questioned and altered into more objective and realistic interpretations, clients mood tend to improve.
We all have some distortions, may that we have picked up in childhood. These distortions become so ingrained in how we see ourselves and the world around us that we believe they are valid and accurate.
For example, I had a client who had very low self esteem and this had stemmed from highly critical parents.She had received continuous messages as a child that she was ugly and useless. She had taken these repeated negative messages and internalised them – she began to believe them as see these labels as part of who she was.
In the end, that was all she could see – that she was ugly and worthless. Her view on life was distorted and she had never had a relationship as she believed no one would ever love her as she was. Only once we started to look at the source – how her parents had told her things that weren’t true and that they were merely her parent’s opinions, she began to make progress and build up her self esteem.
Always be aware of your thoughts and remember that some thoughts are completely inaccurate. If some thoughts make you especially unhappy – look at them in more detail. Where do these thoughts come from? Is there any obvious evidence for them? Are they helpful? Probably not. Learn to look at things in a different way, always ask if there is another way to look at something. If you are self critical, ask yourself how this is helpful to you. Basically – it isn’t. Parents can mess up their kids with their thoughtless remarks and create years of misery.
As long as you remember to question your thoughts regularly – especially the negative ones and remember that thoughts aren’t facts, you are on the right path. Our thoughts can create heaven or hell for us – use them carefully.
I was having a chat with a friend this morning about how there is so much available when it comes to self-help. There are tons of suggestions on what you should do to lead a happy and fulfilled life, and this blog is no exception. However, it must be said that there is a big difference between theory and application, or the ideal and the reality.
We all know what we should be doing but that doesn’t mean that we are all doing it. Actually, in real life, it is hard to always do the right thing, eat the right food and live a life that fits the self help books.
The irony is that a lot of anxiety comes from the gap between how we feel life should be and how life really is. So maybe part of the process should be acknowledgement of this ‘gap’ and that this is normal part of living an imperfect life. Most of us are bumbling alone, hoping that we are on the right track and that things will work out. Despite our best endeavours, we all know that life can throw us curve balls that destroy the best laid plans.
So this blog post is all about keeping a sense of humour, not taking life too seriously and accepting the imperfect nature of life. No one has all the answers, no one gets it right all the time (even if they act as if they do!) and that’s okay. Welcome to the human race…
Think of your perception of reality as your ‘map’. Think of reality as the ‘territory’. Perception vs reality is an important factor in how we live our lives and how successful we are at picking up on what is really going on. Over the years I have listened to many people’s stories, especially all the ways things can go wrong.Our parents teach us what they have learned. Along with this information, comes biases, prejudices and faulty assumptions which leads to our maps not quite fitting the territory. Our perceptions are ultimately distorted and stop fitting reality and this is where many problems come in.
We look for evidence that confirm our beliefs about the world and this, in turn, reinforces our perceptions and distorts what we see. I have seen many clients whose map is so far removed from the territory that they no longer actively engage with the world in a productive way that makes sense. People with severe anxiety and depression often have distorted maps and this causes them to only focus on certain negative aspects of reality in order to make sense of their thoughts and perceptions.
When it comes to perception vs reality, always look for the evidence in reality that supports your thinking/perceptions. This is one way to avoid upsetting and unhelpful thinking from getting the better of us. Cognitive behavioural therapy regularly refers to unhelpful thinking styles that tend to add to our stress. Thoughts such as: black and white (all or nothing) thinking, personalising (blaming ourselves for things that have nothing to do with us), catastrophising, emotional reasoning (I feel upset therefore something MUST be wrong), mind reading (thinking we know what others are thinking) and so on.
We have a lot of flexibility in the thoughts we want to choose to make sense of reality. Make sure you choose these thoughts wisely – ones that are reasonable, based on evidence as much as possible (rather than assumptions) and provide you with positive feelings.
PS. In times of distress, check what you have been telling yourself (your perceptions and thoughts of the reality) and always ask yourself “What can I tell myself that will make me feel better about this situation?” Always look for alternative ways to look at something – they are always there.
Have you ever stopped to think about whether life is really how you see it? We all have our own take on the world yet many of us base our reality on assumptions, projections and second hand information. These ideas and stories that we tell ourselves and recreate in our minds can be tainted by our own irrational thinking and dysfunctional perceptions. Examples of this type of thinking that distorts reality:
Black and white thinking
Life is never black and white yet we try to make it so in order to simplify life. Unfortunately, the trick is not to simplify life but rather to accept that life is complex and that there will always be exceptions to the rule.
Making a mountain out of a molehill magnifies events and creates distortions. Take the emotion out of it and try to look at the facts
Every situation has pros and cons, yet sometimes we tend to see the negative in everything.
Imagining that everything is done to get at you or comments are directed at you. Often, others may be totally oblivious to you. You don’t know what others are really thinking or why they are doing things. You will only know if you ask directly.
Coming to a general conclusion over one incident.
We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid, then we must be stupid. I feel it therefore it must be true.
Recognising that the way we see the world may not necessarily be the way reality is helps us to keep perspective and not always take our thoughts seriously.