One of the best books I’ve picked up in the last few years is Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop. This book gives many great techniques for how to manage negative thoughts and your inner critic. It’s a no-nonsense look at how to let go of emotional patterns that stop people from living their best lives.
We control our emotions by controlling our thoughts and we control our thoughts by controlling our self-talk. (From Unfu*k Yourself pages 9 & 10)
During the holiday season it can be even more difficult than usual to control negative emotions and critical self-talk. Stress comes from many places this time of year. We worry about the gifts we give: are they good enough, will the person like it, is it something they really want? We worry about having things be perfect in our homes and with the gatherings we may host. We worry about being with family we love but may have trouble getting along with. And in 2021 with COVID-19 pandemic still affecting our lives, we worry about how we can gather safely with family and friends.
If you’ve experienced trauma, large gatherings may be difficult to navigate emotionally. For trauma survivors, the holidays can represent painful family experiences or the loss of loved ones. And normal family relationships can be challenging with or without trauma in our past. Our inner critic and negative self-talk can go on hyper-alert during the holidays.
As Gary John Bishop’s book describes, we can control our thoughts and emotions by examining our self-talk. One way our self-talk hurts us is with cognitive distortion. According to the American Psychological Association, cognitive distortion is faulty or inaccurate thinking, perception, or belief (1).
A cognitive distortion is a normal psychological process that can occur in all people to a greater or lesser extent. Understanding cognitive distortions and how they produce negative self-talk can help us process them in a more rational way and not allow them to control our lives, especially during the holidays.
There are many cognitive distortions, but here are a few that might affect a person the most during the holidays.
Personalization: This distortion is believing that we are in control and responsible for things that are outside of our control. This includes blaming yourself and feeling guilty for other people’s problems that are also out of your control. Personalization can also mean believing a situation is about you, for example walking into a room where people are laughing and believe they are laughing about you.
Jumping to conclusions: This is believing something to be true even if we don’t have any evidence of that. This includes only looking at part of the situation and making assumptions based on that, not having a clear perspective about what is happening and making a judgment without evidence.
Devaluing the positive: This is only seeing what’s negative or wrong in a situation rather than seeing what is positive. You devalue the positive when you focus primarily on what you believe are your weakness or limitations rather than focusing on your strengths.
“Should” statements: This type of cognitive distortion is always telling ourselves what we should be doing that we are not. This can be a very shaming way to view ourselves and makes us believe that there are rules that ought to guide us. However, these rules are often judgmental against ourselves or others. It is looking at things in a subjective way rather than an objective way.
“All or nothing” thinking: This is sometimes called “black and white thinking”. This distortion makes us think that a situation is always good or always bad. This kind of extreme doesn’t recognize the gray areas in life.
All of these cognitive distortions can negatively affect how we view the world. This can have an unhealthy impact on how we see ourselves and our abilities and strengths, as well as our relationships. It increases our negative self-talk and self-criticism. This can increase our feelings of shame and cause us to have less joy and pleasure in life.
One way to get a handle on negative self-talk is to simply be aware of these types of cognitive distortions. When you see yourself engaging in one of the negative thought processes listed in this blog, stop and realize that this is what’s happening. Then pause and take a deep breath and try to look at the situation more objectively. Ask yourself, “Is this really what is happening, or is this my interpretation?”
If you’d like more help in dealing with cognitive distortion and negative self-talk, click here to receive a free tip sheet and bonus worksheet, “Seven Ways to Stop Negative Self-Talk”.
(1) Source: https://dictionary.apa.org/cognitive-distortion