Sometimes our reactions to upsetting circumstances can feel overwhelming. Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy uses a four-factor way to look at troubling situations. Using this structure to understand how we react can sometimes help us feel more in control and support possible change.
This four-factor model invites us to be curious about our thoughts, feelings, physical reactions, and behaviours when we feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. In any situation, these four factors are connected. If you change any of these influences, then you also can affect the others, for example, changing your thoughts can change how you feel about a situation.
Often the thoughts we have about a specific situation are automatic, based on the meaning we attach to a situation, or our interpretation, and influenced by our history. Automatic thoughts can be positive or negative.
Sometimes our thoughts become distorted, influencing how we interpret a situation. Here are a few examples of cognitive traps that we get stuck in when we have negative thoughts about a particular situation:
- “Should Statements”: Do you like to should on yourself and others? Sometimes we have incorrect or exaggerated assumptions about the way things could be. We criticize ourselves when we don’t live up to our own or other’s expectations.
- “Mind reading”: Do you find yourself reading people’s minds? You automatically interpret things people do as a negative response to you, even though there is no real evidence for it.
- “Fortune Telling”: Do you find yourself predicting the future and usually with an unrealistically high likelihood of a negative outcome?
- “Black and White Thinking”: Do you think of things in black/white, always/never, right/wrong, or all/nothing? Often there are shades of grey between two extremes. This type of thinking oversimplifies the situation.
- “Probability overestimation”: Sometimes we have exaggerated beliefs about the changes of something bad happening, even though in reality, it is unlikely to occur.
- “Catastrophic Thinking”: You exaggerate the importance of a particular situation or outcome.
- “Magnification” and “Minimization”: Do you magnify a negative outcome and minimize anything positive.
- “Emotional Reasoning”: You base your views on things on what you are feeling versus what the fact are.
- “Labeling”: You call yourself names instead of just describing an event or behaviour.
- “Personalization”: Even though situations are complex and determined by many factors, you accept too much responsibility and blame yourself for negative outcomes.
Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by a situation, review this list of cognitive distortions. Notice if any of these cognitive distortions may be creating a challenge for you that can be overcome when we change the way we think about a situation.
Note: This post is for educational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for therapy.
Davis, K. (2019). Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Depression in Adolescents. McMaster Children’s Hospital.
Josefowitz, N.; Myran, D. (2017). CBT Made Simple. New Harbinger Publications Inc.
About the Author
Jennifer Garland is the founder of The Mane Intent Inc. offering individual and group equine-assisted psychotherapy, psychotherapy, and equine-assisted learning programs including Health and Wellness Workshops, Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching and Leadership Development. Jennifer provides coaching, counsel and support to individuals and groups from all walks of life to create opportunities to build productive relationships, facilitate learning and to embrace change. Learn more about Jennifer’s professional experience, lectures, awards and publications here.
For more information or to book a private virtual session with Jennifer, please call 705-295-6618 or email firstname.lastname@example.org