Wanna’ get better? I’ll teach you! Cognitive restructuring

“Okay, Bill, I read your list of cognitive distortions; and I’m chest-deep in several of them. They have to be making my life incredibly difficult. Bail me out!”

Well, good – you get it. ‘Cause you aren’t going to be empowered to turn things around until you do.

Sounds to me like you’re ready to get to work. So let’s get after it…

Oh, that list of 13 cognitive distortions. Here’s a link to the article for reference sake. And for those of you who haven’t read it, get after it, okay?

Cognitive Restructuring

It may be psychobabble, but it isn’t rocket science, people. In cognitive theory and therapy, cognitive restructuring is the process of learning to refute and reverse cognitive distortions.

So it’s a matter of replacing those worn-out, faulty, and self-destructive thoughts with the fresh, accurate, and healthy. And just watch your emotions and behaviors become more functional in kind!

Don’t underestimate or shoulder-shrug the power and potential of this work. Be it depression, anxiety, stress, or life’s little ickies – it’s a game-changer.

“How does cognitive restructuring work?”

First and foremost, cognitive restructuring won’t work if you don’t accept the fact that you’re directly responsible for your thinking – and subsequent emotions and behaviors.

Then it’s on to believing you can truly turn things around by dismantling your got-me-nowhere thoughts (and beliefs),  and rebuilding your house – the right way.

And you really need to stay on your toes and practice – it’s an ongoing process. Those quirky and annoying thoughts can be like pop-ups on a computer screen.

A Cognitive Restructuring Example

Let’s work through an example of cognitive restructuring, using the intro to yesterday’s article. Here it is…

“The man is just a loser. He’s shown it in every way, and he’ll never change. He’s always been a bad man, and always will be. There’s no alternative but to stay away from him.”

Again, that’s a cognitive distortion known as splitting. It’s a manifestation of thinking in absolute terms. And in the statement you’ll see the common splitting words “always,” “every,” “never,” and “there’s no alternative.”

Let’s slice and dice it a bit. The statement is obviously grounded in great anger, frustration, and pain. And, hey, who’s to say the man isn’t awful? But what’s behind the absolute (black or white) nature of it?

I’m thinking it could be based in issues (opportunities) with vulnerability, security, protection, and emotional management.

And so instead of risking an encounter with these issues (opportunities), our friend uses the black or white of splitting to permanently close the door. “No muss, no fuss.”

By the way, consider this curious twist. One could use the very same splitting technique to convince oneself of all sorts of false positives in an effort to keep someone in her/his life.

Actually, it borders on a cognitive distortion known as emotional reasoning (you gotta’ read yesterday’s piece).

Okay, so what are we going to do with thinking like this? Again, catching it is priority one. And then it’s on to confronting and challenging it – and working toward substitution.

An available technique is reframing, and here’s how you could use it…

“Okay, so it appears as though I believe I’m incapable of emotionally tolerating this man (or anyone like him). Well, fact is I’ve been able to emotionally manage difficult people in my life in the past – and came out alive. So I know for sure it’s in me. Hmmm, so it may take some work, but I definitely have what it takes to emotionally manage this guy in my life. Yes!”

Again, the fruits of cognitive restructuring aren’t going to appear without some effort and practice. However, if you keep at it I believe you’ll find the results amazing.

The Wrap: You Can Do This (…and it’ll work)

Most who are enduring a mood or anxiety disorder spend so much time, energy, and money on their circumstances. And there’s often a huge investment in psychotropic meds.

News flash! I, as a mood and anxiety veteran – and counselor – am not anti-meds! In fact, I relied upon antidepressants and benzos for many years.

However, if you’re dedicated to spend mega-quantities of your personal resources on your situation, why not invest in strategies and techniques like cognitive restructuring?

As stand-alone work, or in conjunction with your meds, they’re effective.

And notice I said, “…in conjunction with your meds.” I didn’t say, “…in augmentation…” In fact, I’d like to see you change your treatment philosophy – believing your meds augment your psychotherapeutic work.

Hey! The ball’s in your court, so get busy!

How ’bout a listing of the almost 280 chipur articles on the psychology of the mood and anxiety disorders? Click here.