People who are members of Twelve Step anonymous groups often talk about how their Stinkin’ Thinkin' leads them to relapse. Stinkin’ Thinkin’ is what psychotherapists recognize as cognitive distortions. That means that your thinking is twisted. In other words, you believe your thoughts are the truth. When you feel the way you think and your thinking is negative, you might put yourself into a depressed state. Here are some real life examples. Perhaps you will recognize yourself or someone you know.
When Theresa was fifty her husband lost his business. She had been a homemaker since she married and hadn’t ever worked. Because they were in a financial crisis she had to find a job. Theresa would get up every morning with the intention of looking for work, but would find so many distractions that she never got around to following through.
When Theresa consulted me about her problem she remarked, “I am too old and fat. I am embarrassed to go for an interview. No one will want to hire me.” Her negative beliefs kept her sitting at home feeling depressed and stuck. Theresa assumed that this imaginary worst-case scenario was the only possible outcome! If what she described was guaranteed to happen I wouldn’t blame her for not wanting to go on interviews.
One of my wise mentors used to say, “The Truth with a capital T is true for everyone, everywhere, all the time. If it isn’t, then it is just your opinion. And you can change your opinion.” Was Theresa’s belief about her future the Truth with a capital T? Is it true that all overweight fifty-year-olds are turned down for jobs? When Theresa spoke to me, I had no doubt that her tale of woe was just her opinion... but she was unaware of it.
I challenged Theresa's Stinkin' Thinkin' and taught her that what she was doing is called “awfulizing.” She was foretelling a tragic soap opera where the worst thing would definitely happen and her life would be ruined. Once she comprehended her mistake she was able to think of other ways to address her problem. She convinced herself that perhaps there was a job for someone like her. She took some brush-up classes in office skills and was determined to keep looking.
While Theresa was getting ready to go job hunting a friend phoned and told her about someone who was organizing a special film festival and looking for an assistant. Even though Theresa wasn't a skilled office worker she had other talents that got her hired. This opportunity turned out to be a fabulous job! If you are like Theresa please examine your thoughts and ask yourself if they are really the Truth with a capital "T" or just your opinion.
Another harmful type of Stinkin' Thinkin' is All or Nothing thinking that limits your choices to only 2, black/white or either/or. Perfectionists who have only two choices, all or nothing, good or bad, perfect or failure, paint themselves into a corner. When you have to earn an A or you consider yourself a failure, you don’t leave room to feel OK with a B plus or A minus.