We don’t like to be corrected. But it helps to realize three things:
Everyone has cognitive distortions –You might be thinking, I’m sure other people do have false belief patterns, but not me.” Well, that’s a cognitive distortion right there called the Always right fallacy. See, fun already.
You can overcome these false beliefs – It might some work and some blows to your pride, but you can and must work against the false thing patterns of thinking that are sabotaging you.
Your adjustments to your thinking will change your behavior – Your behaviors begin in your thoughts and your habits are determined by your thinking patterns. Change those patterns and you change your behavior almost automatically. For example, its hard to lash out in ager about something you aren’t angry about and it hard to get angry at someone when you noodle though the fact that it’s not them, it’s you. Get it?
By the way, cognitive distortions, for reasons that will become obvious, correlate with depression, which is something teens already struggle with, so this is a break these false thought biases are key to good mental health for teenagers.
Before I get to the first three cognitive distortions, let me say this.
I’m not a therapist, but I am an expert at dealing with teenagers. I know how to speak to them, motivate them and help them change before it’s too late.
I’ve spoken all over the world to and about teenagers. I’ve worked with schools and law enforcement in helping teenagers, I travel with hundreds each year on volunteering trips and I’m a parent to two teenagers.
As I present these, I will present them like I’m talking to you so you can do the same with your teenager or you could watch this with them.
It’s also possible you might just see yourself in these and I’m tricking you into dealing with your own stuff.
is taking things personally when they aren’t about you at all (or probably aren’t about you).
You might often assume you are intentionally targeted or excluded. If someone is upset, it’s probably because they are mad at you.
If something bad happens, it’s because you caused it. If it rains, it’s the universe bullying you.
Consequences: Personalization has been associated with anxiety and depression.
Examples: 1) Your friend is rude to you and you conclude that something is wrong with you, when really is was your friend being unkind.
2) Someone is looking your direction while laughing and you assume they are laughing at you when it really could have been anything.
How to deal: Explain to yourself that there are many reasons why things happen, and it is unlikely that you are the center of attention, but even if you are, you don’t control and can’t be responsible for everything everyone else does.
Jeff: You aren’t the center of the universe; people don’t think about you as much as you think they do. And even if they do, there’s nothing you can do about it, so do your best to let it go.
Myth of Fairness is when you get resentful because you think you know what it fair, but you feel that people or things that happen aren’t fair to you.
When you expect everything to be fair, but realize it usually isn’t, you can become frustrated and feel like a victim.
Consequences: People who feel constantly victimized can become chronically angry and easily set off.
Examples: 1) You perceive that your parents favor one of your siblings or another person more than you. You see this favoritism in everything.
2) Everyone else gets a raise and work and you become angry. You believe you have been targeted.
How to deal: Challenge your assumptions that everything should and can always be fair. Realize that sometimes you will be treated unfairly in your opinion and sometimes you will get favored treatment.
Think of things that you have to be thankful for instead of focusing on the never-ending list of things that others have that you don’t have. Realize you may have to work just as hard or harder than others to get the same results.
Jeff: Hey, wouldn’t it be nice if everything was always fair? We can and should fight for justice, but we can’t let injustice ruin our lives and relationships, because injustice will always exist. Someone else will always have it better than you, but there are those who will always have it worse.
Double Standards is when you hold others to a different set of standards than you hold yourself to.
Consequences: frustrations from unmet expectations and relational tension in your most important relationships.
Examples: 1) You lie to your parents when backed into a corner but hold them to an incredibly high standard for truthfulness, even referring to broken promises or mistakes as lies.
2) You judge others by their worst actions and judge yourself by our best intentions.
How to deal: Commit to assuming the best instead of the worst for others when different possible motivations might be possible.
Recognize that people not only make mistakes but will sometimes intentionally wrong you and offer the same forgiveness you wish to receive.
Jeff: People aren’t perfect. They lie, they are selfish, the do things wrong and sometimes they make mistakes. You should be used to it because you do it all the time. Don’t set unrealistic standards for the behavior and motivations of others.
4. Three common methods of changing through patterns:
1. Telling yourself the truth
This taking false or exaggerated statements and using reason to turn them to the truth.
This is useful in every distortion, but I’ll use personalization as an example.
The False or exaggerated statement is, “The kids at school were looking at me and laughing today and made me feel like garbage. Everyone hates me.”
This is when we work to reform this statement to something that is true like:
“I know those kids were laughing when they looked at me, but they could have been laughing at someone else. Even if they don’t like, other people do like me and I couldn’t make everyone like even if I tried.”
Even when we are trying to correct negative thinking patterns, we need to balance truth with empathy. If your teenager doesn’t think you care (even when you know you do), it’s unlikely they will listen to you.
Make sure they feel heard and that you ask questions that lead them to the conclusions they need to come to. Just telling them that they are believing lies—or worse, they are just “believing a cognitive distortion”—when they are upset about something probably won’t work.
Make sure you listen to them and show that you really care. Otherwise, your “help” will come across as a “lecture” –the dreaded description of a parent trying to help but not “getting it.”
My suggestion is that you address these issues when the teen isn’t in the middle of an emotional meltdown. Using other people as examples can also help them from being defensive.
But just being a listening ear isn’t being a parent or other adult of influence. They have friends who will listen, so you have to be an adult who helps change things. Don’t expect these ideas—which are very counterintuitive to people who are more emotionally than cognitively oriented—to land on open ears.