A cognitive distortion tracker is obviously not new, but I thought I’d make my own and add tips for identifying and correcting based on my own experience.
Cognitive Distortion Tracker Troubleshooting
It can be hard to pin down certain thoughts to write down because we have so many all the time! This is why I look for high levels of negative emotion instead of the faulty thought itself. This helps me because the automatic thoughts are so ingrained that they seem normal to me and are therefore hard to identify. So now, (and remember it’s a work in progress for me as well), I try to spot the emotion first. It’s still hard to do because we also have emotions all the time. But, if the emotion is strong and happens right after a situation / trigger and was not felt before said trigger, my flag goes up! If you can spot the problematic thought right away, good on you!
Examples of Warning Flags:
Sudden guilt, shame, anger, frustration, sadness, worthlessness, anxiety, pressure, shame, disgust, hostility, feeling discouraged and so many more.
When you feel this, stop. Now I know what you might be thinking; this happens when I’m not in a position to write it down! I have a life and I speak with people, work, attend classes, etc. I get it. But the reality is that if we don’t make the time, it’s not going to be addressed. My solution? Remember just the strongest emotion, the gist of what happened, and your first thoughts. Try to lock them into memory until you can pick up your phone and make a note. Chances are you’ll be on your phone for one reason or other in not too long. Admit it, our phones can be practically glued to our hand. A perk with this is that quick ideas are easy to jot down WHEREVER you are. (Warning so that I don’t get sued: Don’t text and drive!)
The Next Step
Now that you’re in a quiet place, you can take the time to think about what happened. While the headings to fill in on the chart are in a certain order, I don’t necessarily follow it. My mind just doesn’t work that way sometimes and working backwards can yield me better results. Oh and one more thing…if you feel like your thoughts are a labyrinth, I feel you … it’s normal. Our minds make leaps through the associations we’ve formed so one thing leads to another for everybody. (This is what happens with our ‘Negative Thought Patterns’, they’re just way more unpleasant.) Short story: I start with hearing / thinking / feeling / seeing one thing, my mind interprets it poorly, I jump around going from bad to worse and by the end I hate myself. Yup. But my point is that we can unravel the string and trace it back to its origin. Let me walk you through an example of me figuring out what the heck happened. I can describe it decently well because this is an example that occurs weekly. I can’t stop the thought process yet, but I can clearly identify it which is actually excellent progress.
What do I remember most? I felt disgusting, ugly, selfish and guilty.
When did I feel this? What happened right before?: I felt it during and after being sexually intimate with my fiancé.
What was it that made me feel bad about it?: In many ways I’m not comfortable with being touched. Hugs are ok, but even then I have to feel like I have some space. That’s because I think that whoever touches me will feel my fat and I can’t take that. Therefore intimacy is especially uncomfortable, as you can well imagine. On top of that I have almost non-existent libido just normally, and the 17 pills I take per day just adds to that! (It’s crazy…I know.) Put it all together and I’m not great for my 21 year old fiancé if you catch my drift. I still do things, but my feelings are clear and that hurts him. So what were my main thoughts and how did they progress?
I’m not in the mood for this but I should be…I’m not normal. —-> Is he feeling how big my stomach is? And my big thighs? —-> I complain a lot but I’m lazy and never act on things to make them change. —-> I should be exercising every day so I don’t get even bigger. And maybe I’m still eating too many carbs and I’m sure I’ve been overindulging. —-> I never stick to anything; is it any wonder that I never get the top results I want? —-> He’s probably not even enjoying this. He says I’m attractive but he’s just trying to make me feel better. —-> If I lost weight I’d feel better about myself and then I would be better with him so he’d enjoy it more. —–> I’m such a selfish person…I’m not a good girlfriend.
Identifying & Interpreting the Cognitive Distortions
Wow. That really escalated quickly, didn’t it? My reaction, as yours might be, is how do I pick this apart much less change it? We’ll start by identifying the key words using my previous article on this subject. If you haven’t read it or it isn’t fresh in your mind, I recommend a quick view. I’m going to copy / paste my thoughts and this time highlight the key words:
I’m not in the mood for this but I should be…I’m not normal. —-> Is he feeling how big my stomach is? And my big thighs? —-> I complain a lot but I’m lazy and never act on things to make them change. —-> I should be exercising every day so I don’t get even bigger. And maybe I’m still eating too many carbs and I’m sure I’ve been overindulging. —-> I never stick to anything; is it any wonder that I never get the top results I want? —-> He’s probably not even enjoying this. He says I’m attractive but he’s just trying to make me feel better. —-> If I lost weight I’d feel better about myself and then I would be better with him so he’d enjoy it more. —–> I’m such a selfish person…I’m a bad girlfriend.
Eek. There were more than I thought. Alright, I’m seeing two should’s, so I’m engaging in should statements. I also call myself not normal. Am I labelling? It looks like it because I also call myself selfish and a bad girlfriend. Oh and lazy. I see…two never’s, so that’s overgeneralization. Next we have; “He says I’m attractive but he’s just trying to make me feel better.” I’ll be right back, I’m pretty sure that’s mind-reading. Yes I’m going to go with jumping to conclusions which includes fortune telling and mind-reading. One more; “If I lost weight…”. I think that could be personalization. I’m not sure, but it seems like I believe that if I did something else then it would go well; I’m taking the blame. Lastly, my overall attitude suggests magnification because it becomes a huge deal that ends with the outright statement that I’m a bad girlfriend.
- I should be more self-compassionate and realize that I’m bound to feel these things because of my eating disorder thoughts and low-confidence.
- I’m not really abnormal…I’m just…in a different situation I guess. It’s ok to be asexual and it’s also ok to lose interest especially when having a mental illness and being on medication.
- I’m not always lazy, unmotivated and quick to give up. I’ve succeeded at things but of course I have things to improve. Everyone does in one way or another.
- Even if I disagree, Aaron is still entitled to his view of me. I shouldn’t be thinking for him or implying that he’s lying for a good reason.
- This isn’t the end of the world. One ‘difficulty’ doesn’t make me ALL selfish and a bad girlfriend. It takes many many instances to indicate those things and again, they can be changed.
A Word of Advice
This is my personal analysis and I hope it helps you start to log your own patterns. I know that coming up with a realistic view can be hard to accept and believe, but repetition truly can get you there. You just have to keep at it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in these past years it’s that sometimes you just have to live and keep trying even when NOTHING is changing. It’s to me one of the most frustrating and agonizing challenges but it’s a harsh reality that has to be somewhat accepted to keep from drowning in desperation. You also can’t wait…starting early can make all the difference. This may seem like a small and pointless exercise…but please believe me when I say that it’s the exponential value of small tools that make up a big long term difference!
If you missed Part 1 you may want to check it out here.
P.S. My muffin (AKA Mia), isn’t going to be with me for a few days because Piko can’t be around her while she’s in heat. He’s too anxious and sad. I miss her so much and it’s only been a day! I need to hug my little miracle…I haven’t gone a day without her since we found her on the road!
|Situation/Trigger||Automatic Thoughts||Emotional Response||Distortion||New Perspective|
|Complemented for 94% on a test.||It was easy and doesn’t count for much, besides I’m going to do so badly on the exam.||Sadness|
Overwhelmed with pressure
|Disqualifying the positive & fortune telling||94% is a good grade and an indication that I understand the material well. I also have time to study for the exam and shouldn’t predict a negative outcome.|