What happened and what did I make it mean? (DW#511)

As we have been discussing over these last few weeks, it is rather easy to get caught up in cognitive distortions, find that we may spinning out of control in our distorted thinking loops and sometimes collapse from emotional and mental overload as a result of the havoc wreaked by these thinking loops.

A very effective way to get back to mental and emotional stability is this little exercise:

On a piece of paper, draw two circles. Label the first one: What Happened and the second one: What I made it mean.

Now in the first circle write down a situation when you were upset with someone: someone did not respond to your text, did not return an email or a phone call, they spoke to you in a loud voice, said something, did not greet you on your birthday etc. etc. etc. What you write here should be observable on a video screen by anybody watching.

Next, in the second circle, write down all your interpretations: the labels you have put on them, the judgements you are passing, the meaning that you are making of this situation. What you write here would NOT be observable on a video screen. The director would have to make thought bubbles appear from your mind and write these things in there.

Have fun with the second part. Be creative. Write down all the meanings that you have made of this situation. Whatever thought starts with "They are so . . . .". "How dare they . . . " "How can they be so . . . ". Keep going. Everything that you are too embarrassed to acknowledge even to yourself, write that down.

Unconsciously, many of our interactions with ourselves and others are influenced by what is inside these thought bubbles. As a result of these assumptions, conclusions and interpretations, we may be walking around hurt and resentful and assuming that all such thoughts are TRUE.

Are you done writing in this circle?

Now, just pause and ask yourself: is it possible to make different meanings from what happened in the first circle? Is it possible to have another interpretation of the facts?

Hint: the answer to these questions is always: YES!

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