Cognitive distortions are distorted, exaggerated, negative ways of thinking. For example, your boss tells you that your presentation was not as good as she had expected, and you take that to mean your boss hates everything you do and thinks you’re terrible at your job. This kind of distortion is called overgeneralization: You take one isolated instance and assume it applies to everything in your life. I am having one of those moments now. I appeared on “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell” on CNN Headline News and really really did not like how I looked. I liked what I had to say, but my cognitive distortion is I really was un-happy with my appearance. Everyone is telling me this is not true but my cognitive distortion says otherwise.
Most people think in distorted ways from time to time, but addicts are especially prone to many types of cognitive distortions. They tend to filter all information through a negative lens. This kind of thinking is really dangerous, because it leads to hopelessness, inaction, feelings of worthlessness, and a belief that change is not possible.
When your thinking is so distorted, you no longer see the world as it really is. You’re living in your head, rather than living in the real world.
The first step in clearing out this kind of distorted thinking is to recognize it. When you know what to look for, you can catch yourself thinking in distorted ways, re-examine an event and understand it for what it really is. In the example I just gave about the boss and the presentation, you might realize your boss was being critical of only one thing that you did. And the fact that she expected better work from you means she generally thinks your work is good.
Psychologists recognize the following 10 cognitive distortions as being the most common. See if any of them seem familiar.
1. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things as black and white–total success or total failure.
2. Overgeneralization: You see a single event as evidence of an endless pattern.
3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and focus exclusively on that, so that you never see the good in anything.
4. Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences as being irrelevant; somehow, they “don’t count.”
5. Jumping to conclusions: You interpret things negatively and assume everything will turn out badly. You might assume everyone dislikes you without even asking them, or assume things will turnout badly without even trying them.
6. Magnification or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of bad things in your life and minimize the importance of good things.
7. Emotional reasoning: You assume your negative emotions reflect the way things really are.
8. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself and others by saying “you should do this,” or you “shouldn’t do that,” as if you and everyone else must be punished and made to feel guilty before you will actually do anything.
9. Labeling and mislabeling: You negatively label yourself or others based on a single event. So, for example, you forget to say “thank you” once and you conclude, “I’m a rude person.”
10. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of external events that you really had nothing to do with.
This list of cognitive distortions comes from work done by David D. Burns, MD (you can read about it in his book The Feeling Good Handbook, William Morrow and Company, 1989). Also, check out http://depression.about.com/cs/psychotherapy/a/cognitive.htm–a web site that explains these cognitive distortions really well.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach and author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery” and the go-to expert for life-coaching matters on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab. Sherry has developed a 7 step program on how uniting the concepts of the Law of Attraction with one’s authentic self can create a powerful recovery.
Have you ever felt you have trouble with your impulse control or coping skills? Do you get anxious easily? Do you have difficulty accepting help from others? Do you self medicate and don’t consider yourself an addict or alcoholic? These are some of the symptoms of being an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA).
The media spends so much time on alcoholics and addicts because let’s face it, celebrity addiction is scandalous news and it goes along with a generation of “celebrity worshipers.” However, there is a whole population of others that suffer along with the addicts and alcoholics? They are known as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s). Their issues are just as painful and as you may already know, addiction is a family disease. Growing up as a child in a family of alcoholics and addicts can be extremely traumatic.
If you answered yes to most of the questions above, you may be dealing with the after effects of growing up in a chaotic family system. Other symptoms of ACOA’s can include having a loss of trust in others and yourself, always feeling helpless, self-destructive behaviors, shame, intimacy problems, isolation, and somatic issues.
I have one client who had been self sufficient, a high achiever, raised two children, and when she decided to retire, she developed a host of problems including panic attacks, severe depression, and fibromyalgia. She was experiencing trauma frozen in her body. Now all her childhood pain being raised by a mentally ill and alcoholic mother was expressing itself physically and emotionally.
· If you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms, there is help out there. See a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, a chemical dependency counselor, a spiritual advisor, and most importantly go to an Al-Anon meeting. Al- Anon offers strength and hope for friends and families of problem drinkers and Nar-Anon is for families of addicts. At least four other people are effected by someone’s addiction or alcoholism. Another helpful program is Codependents Anonymous (CODA). I started my road to recovery in the rooms of Coda. It is a program that helps individuals who have the tendency to be people pleasers and excessively caretaking focusing on others.
· When you are continually dealing with the trauma of having an addict and alcoholic in your life, the continual focus on them can have an extremely negative impact on your own relationships and quality of life. Sometimes you don’t even realize you are being codependent because you were so invisible growing up in a family where your own needs weren’t met. You were too busy taking care of your sick parents in their disease of alcoholism or addiction and never learned to take care of yourself. Take care of yourself now. You are that important.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach. She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.” She is the Life Coach and go-to expert on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and has created a seven step program for uniting the concepts of the Law of Attraction with one’s authentic self for a powerful recovery.
In Lindsay’s case she became famous quite young, and most likely had many handlers around her or are what are known as “yes” people. You have seen these handlers around other actors, actresses, and musicians such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and tragically they could have been responsible for enabling Michael Jackson to his death. This Hollywood treatment had to have given Lindsay a feeling of being in total control and somehow not having to abide by the same standards that others do in the court of law. In fact, she has not complied seven times to the court’s orders. Her disrespect by the profanity painted on her finger nail toward the court is an example of such disregard for the legal system, and on some level herself.
Lindsay is still experiencing herself as the “victim”, and until she realizes she is responsible for her actions, no one else, she will remain one. Until the consequences of her behavior become so un-tolerable for Lindsay, she will keep doing what she is doing to self-destruct. I don’t necessarily believe jail is the answer for her, but I know something very drastic has to change for Lindsay to make the shift from feeling like a victim to becoming a victor.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery”, and Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab on VH1. She has a private practice where she does psychotherapy, life coaching, participates in webinars, tele-seminars, and speaking engagements.
It’s been about a year since Michael Jackson died, and the anniversary has brought him back into the news and into my thoughts. Michael’s path to addiction and, eventually, overdose, was typical of so many addicts.
It started with the childhood he never had. Many addicts come from families in which there is some type of dysfunction. Perhaps their parents were also addicts or they had some kind of serious physical or emotional illness. Perhaps the parents, for some reason, were simply unable to be preset for their children. Whatever the reason, the children get thrust into the role of caretaker to their parents–a role they can’t possibly fulfill, because, after all, they’re just children. So they fail and fail and fail again, and grow up believing they can never succeed.
For Michael Jackson, he was thrust into the role of family breadwinner at a very early age. And on top of that responsibility, he had a physically and verbally abusive father who was never satisfied with anything Michael did. Obviously, the nurturing, safe environment children need to grow up in, to make mistakes in, to be protected in, did not exist for him.
As an adult, Michael spent a lot of his enormous wealth trying to create a childhood for himself. He built an amusement park and a zoo on his property, he surrounded himself with children, and, eventually, he adopted children whom he regarded as his playmates. He also surrounded himself with reminders of his enormous popularity and with people who would always agree with him and never tell him that we was wrong.
It was all supposed to erase a childhood filled with messages of failure and demands that he be an adult. But, as we know, it didn’t work. Because we can’t erase our childhood. No amount of money in the world can buy back the past. We have to learn how to deal with it, move beyond it, get ourselves into the present. When we keeping living in our painful past, we end up medicating and numbing ourselves–just as Michael Jackson did.
But even when you have enough money to keep a doctor on payroll, so you never need to hustle for illegal drugs of questionable purity or potency, addiction eventually overtakes you. You need more and more drugs just to stay numb, and there comes a time when you go too far.
You cannot change your past. But you can learn how to live your life fully awake, fully alive, in the present moment. When you do that, you no longer need to be numb. As Michael Jackson’s sad end shows us, you cannot go back in time, full of regret. You can only go forward, full of hope and compassion.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is an experienced professional in the field of addictions and recovery. She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.” A licensed psychotherapist and life coach who attended the famous Coaches Training Institute, Sherry received her Masters of Social Work from the prestigious University of Southern California. With fifteen years of experience as a clinician, she has also worked at some of the top rehab centers including the famed Promises Treatment Center in Malibu, CA. The success of her private practice and coaching program made her the go-to expert for Dr. Drew Pinsky on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab 2 and 3 and its spinoff, Sober House, and she will continue as the Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab 4 summer 2010. Sherry’s expertise has been quoted in Cosmopolitan, New York Daily News, E Online, Elle Online, Huffington Post, and she has appeared on Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, Hollywood Confidential, Inside Edition, Dr. Drew Live, Fox News in San Diego, and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. Sherry is a frequent contributor to anthologies, blogs, and newsletters, is a sought-after speaker, and lives with her family in Southern California where she maintains an active private practice. Visit Sherry at www.sgabatherapy.com.