Have you lectured yourself for always being tardy when you got delayed for an important meeting? When you forgot your friend’s birthday did you call yourself an “oh so terrible person”? Do you find yourself questioning any success you have ever achieved after facing a setback?
I constantly find myself lost in these thoughts and have occasionally wondered how to deal with this bug in my mindscape. So I did a little digging (and some first hand research) and realised I was not the only one plagued (for lack of a better word) by these vicious thoughts. The tendency to arrive at an extreme conclusion is termed as Thought Polarisation, it is when we think in black or white and extremes when experiencing a heightened state of anxiety - you know that feeling of dread, doom and overwhelming despair? That’s the one. The easy way to identify this is when we use statements such as:
I can never be social.
I am always punctual.
It is impossible for me to make friends.
Everybody thinks I am weird.
If I do not get into this college my life is ruined.
Did you notice the universal statements of never, always and the fatalistic tendency of viewing situations as impossible? These universal words often cause distorted thoughts that blatantly ignore the realities they are a part of. They act as the fuel to one’s anxiety in executing tasks and living life. Ignoring the grey or the ‘in-between’ tends to lead to an existence between the two extremes of black and white, splitting the world into opposites and limiting our pool of experience.
Not everything in reality neatly fits into the box labelled as good and bad, or black or white. Polarised thinking can distort our perceptions of reality, leaving us blinded to the complexities that surround us. That being said, here are a few simple ways of dealing with a polarised thought should they make an appearance and threaten your mindscape.
Spotting a polarised thought is quite easy, we express them in absolutes so watch out for thoughts that express that - some of them are “always”, “never”, “perfect” or absolute statements such as “I am useless”, “nobody will ever understand me”.
Thoughts are not facts, thoughts can be varied and bring with them varied feelings. Thoughts that have strong emotional content can feel like they are true since we can feel the emotions in our body.
Be mindful of the words you use. Instead of saying “I am a failure” try saying “I worry that I am a failure” or “I am having thoughts about being a failure” - in turn, this can instantly help you disidentify yourself from that thought.
Look for alternating viewpoints. Talk to someone you trust and get another perspective to your experience.
Investigate the feeling behind the thought. Often when we focus on the thought, the feelings that the thoughts are trying to express tend to be sidelined. For example; the thought “I am useless” expresses dejection and can signal a need for nurturance and support or the thought “This never goes my way” expresses exasperation and frustration at the loss of control.
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