What are the facts? (DW#509)

We have already taken the first step towards more effective thinking and that is to begin to recognize that our thoughts are not facts. They are simply mental events that are often distortions of our mind.

Since thoughts are merely interpretations of events, why not choose more helpful interpretations? Why not choose interpretations that would make us feel good about ourselves and others rather than bring us down and cause us to blame and disconnect from our loved ones?

So the next time you catch yourself having a cognitive distortion, you may find it helpful to ask yourself: what are the facts?

Pretend that you are a lawyer (or a scientist) when you’re challenging your thoughts. The best lawyers and scientists generally don’t use feelings or opinions to win their argument – they stick to the facts (the evidence). Facts are those things, behaviours and events that you can see on a video screen.

For example, if you catch yourself thinking that you are a bad parent, pause, breathe and ask: what are the facts? What happened exactly?

The fact might be that you yelled at your children when you got home from work. A video camera would be able to pick up on the raised volume in which you were talking. Three different people watching the video would see/hear/notice the increase in volume (an observable fact) but would draw different conclusions from the raised voices: You had a bad day, you got bad news, you were trying to get your voice heard over the noise of the TV, everyone in your family speaks loudly, you are hard of hearing and so you raise your voice, your children are hard of hearing (!) and therefore you are raising your voice etc. etc. etc.

Can you see how the label of "a bad parent" is a cognitive distortion, an interpretation which has no objective "truth"?

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