If you are depressed, it could be the result of twisted thinking. There are many different forms of twisted thinking, and you may be suffering from more than one. The good news is that if you can catch yourself thinking in a twisted way, you can use strategies to defeat it and feel much better.
Here I want to look at two forms of twisted thinking, disqualifying the positive and jumping to conclusions.
Disqualifying the positive happens when you don’t just ignore positive things which have happened, you actually turn them into negatives. It is one of the ways in which you maintain depression. An example: someone pays you a compliment, but you dismiss it with “they’re just being nice because they feel sorry for me” or “they just want something from me”.
Or someone may say “I have no friends. Nobody cares about me”. When pointed out that they do in fact have numerous friends who seem concerned about them, they dismiss this with “they don’t know the real me. If they knew what I was really like they wouldn’t like me at all”. Disqualifying the positive is one of the most damaging cognitive distortions. Although it can exist in mild form, it can also contribute to severe cases of depression. Treatment can help you to identify when you are disqualifying the positive, challenge the pattern of negative thinking and restore much of the joy and satisfaction to life.
The form of twisted thinking is jumping to conclusions. This can take the form of making assumptions about what other people are thinking (“mind reading”) or about what you think will happen in the future (“fortune teller error”).
You might be guilty of mind reading at work if your boss seems in a bad mood and doesn’t seem to want to talk to you. You immediately assume that he is angry with you, that you have done something wrong. In fact he may be having problems at home, or having difficulties with his superiors. It has nothing to do with you at all. The fortune teller error makes you accept as fact what is only a gloomy prediction. You are afraid that your anxiety attacks will develop into full-blown schizophrenia and you will be hospitalised, or that your depression will cause you to lose all your friends. There is no evidence that any of these terrible things are happening, but if you are in the grip of the fortune teller error this counts for nothing.
I hope this litany of stinking thinking isn’t depressing you. The point to remember is that if you can understand these mechanisms, and how they affect you is already halfway to solving the problem. With practice, and possibly some help from a therapist, you can learn to spot when your thinking is going astray, challenge the thoughts and substitute more realistic, positive ones.