When I get sick, my thinking tends to be fairly catastrophic. When my daughter gets sick, this tendency is amplified by a million. So today, in my head, my daughter’s deep nasty cough meant pneumonia and my sudden onset throbbing headache was a clear indication of brain tumor. I have learned to take these ideas in stride only because I have again and again and again watched myself catastrophize, and I am (almost always) proven wrong. Indeed, the pediatrician informed me, my daughter had post nasal drip, and I came to see how my stuffy nose was creating a run-of-the-mill sinus headache. Everything was, in fact, fine.
Last week, I talked with my classes about Mind Traps, a term I learned from my MBSR course. We as humans have universal habits of distorted thinking that make it difficult to see the world clearly. Some of my personal favorites include:
Personalization and blame: Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control.
Magnification: You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the “binocular trick.”
Discounting the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count.” If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.
When I asked them why it might be useful to have a list like this, they very quickly hit on the two benefits that I find for myself:
You are not alone in your crazy thinking. It’s a human condition, not a personal defect.
You can more easily identify when you’re in a mind trap just by having language to identify it.
So when you have a moment, read through the Mind Traps and consider those that are your personal go-tos. Take heart that we all are a bit crazy, just with our own brand. Perhaps the next time you’re in the midst of a Mind Trap, you can just notice, and perhaps even grin. There I am, being a silly human again.
(credit to MBSR teacher Mary Bitterrauf at MaineHealth for this compilation)