As a trauma therapist, my goal is to help clients understand how their experiences and thinking can affect the way we see the world. By teaching them how to question themselves, they gain the ability to uncover the truth of their experiences and realize their own power in shaping their lives.
One way to improve our life experience is by becoming aware of cognitive distortions.
Cognitive distortions are thinking errors or biases created by the mind.
These patterns create experiences that we perceive as reality, similar to a mirage of an oasis in the desert.
Such patterns of thinking can lead to inaccurate perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world.
These ways of thinking can create conflicts inside us and with others, make us feel worse, and make us feel alone in our thoughts.
Many people experience cognitive distortions, and when we believe them, they become our distorted reality.
We can learn to notice how we think.
Consider the following scenario as another illustration of all-or-nothing thinking: Imagine a person who dedicated significant time and effort to a job task. They diligently worked on it, going the extra mile and even sacrificing personal time by taking work home. However, upon submitting their work, their boss responded with critical feedback, focusing on the perceived mistakes. Instead of recognizing their efforts, acknowledging any positives, or contemplating ways to improve for the future, all-or-nothing thinking takes over. They become fixated solely on the negative feedback, disregarding any other perspective. This negative cycle fuels feelings of inadequacy and despair, ultimately impacting various aspects of their life in detrimental ways.
All-or-nothing thinking can affect different parts of life, including relationships, work, how we see ourselves, our emotional hygiene, and our attempts at self-improvement. It can make us feel more stressed, make us strive for perfection, and makes us rigid with ourselves and others.
All-or-nothing thinking contributes to perfectionism.
To get started in challenging all-or-nothing thinking:
1. See it. It's important to first realize that it can be a problem. Sometimes we don't even notice when we're thinking in extreme ways, and this can make our problems worse. Seeing cognitive distortions that we participate in is the first step.
2. Label it. There are multiple types of cognitive distortions, so learning how to label a distortion when you see it can help you take a step back and consider your next steps. By recognizing and saying "that's all-or-nothing thinking" or "that's a cognitive distortion," we give ourselves room to think differently.
3. Challenge it. There are a handful of ways to challenge all-or-nothing thinking.
If you are struggling, try not to stress. Learning to understand how our brain, thoughts, emotions, and body engage in world is a skill.
Talking to a therapist can help us understand why we sometimes think this way. We can learn to more aware and challenge our distorted thinking. With practice, we can become more flexible, handle challenges better, and see things in a more realistic and open-minded way.
Remember, the journey of improving our thinking and understanding our emotions is a whole new skill.
There are many more ways to improve the way you think and understand the way you feel.
Good luck. Remember that you can do it, and it's okay to ask for help!
About the Author
Tom Hill is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Colorado, specializing in the treatment and resolution of trauma and attachment wounding. With almost 20 years of experience in the mental health field, Tom understands the profound impact negative experiences can have on a person's thoughts, emotions, and body. He firmly believes that trauma is treatable and that everyone has the potential to heal and grow.