It is not the events themselves that trigger our emotions, but how we perceive them and how we interpret them. Therefore, two people can react differently to the same situation, and this can produce completely different feelings in them. Two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Epictetus was already reflecting on this when he said: "People are not disturbed by the events that happen to them, but by their vision of them."
Sometimes, we perceive reality in a distorted way and situations in an unobjective way. This puts us in trouble. It is as if we were wearing glasses with a yellow filter. Everything we see through those glasses will have that tonality. These distortions or filters trigger negative emotions. These habits of thought often get us into trouble and do not allow us to grasp reality as it is.
Here are some of the most common distortions. See if you feel identified with any.
- polarized thinking. It is an all or nothing type of thinking. This type of distortion makes us value the events in an extreme way, the intermediate aspects are not taken into account. For example: “either I win the scholarship or my future is lost”, “if I can't be fun and lively, I'm a total bore”, “if I can't calm down, I'm hysterical”, “there is only one way right to live (and all the others are bad)”, “This is my big chance for a good relationship (and if I lose it, I'll be alone)”.
- over generalization: Belief that if something happens once, it will happen many times. A simple negative fact is valued as a model of defeat that will tend to repeat itself and will never end. If you generalize too much, a failed date with an older woman convinces you that all older women are going to think you're shallow and inexperienced. A poorly sawn table makes you believe that you will never master carpentry. Deleting a file by accident automatically makes you technologically illiterate. And, precisely, that habit of overgeneralizing does not allow you to check if those rules are true.
- Catastrophism: A situation is evaluated with the worst possible outcome, both in terms of what has been experienced and what is to come. For example, a headache means I have a tumor.
- Personalization: It is the belief of seeing oneself as responsible for some unfortunate or unpleasant events. Everything that happens seems to be related to our person. For example: my roommate complains about how cramped the apartment is and I immediately assume that it is because I have too many things. A friend says that he is bored, and I think he is bored with me. The great mistake of personalization is that it makes us react inappropriately. For example, maybe you start a fight with your roommate over a problem that doesn't exist.
What are your filters or distortions? Do you know how to recognize them? These are just a few. Remember that the key is to catch our cognitive distortions (the "filters of our glasses" with which we interpret what happens to us), and change our thoughts for ones more adjusted to reality.
For example: if my head hurts and I quickly think that I have a lethal disease (catastrophism); I must stop to reflect that a cause of my pain may be that hypothesis, but it may also be that I have slept in an inappropriate position. Another example: if I go around the office and see that my manager is very serious, and I quickly think that he is upset with me (personalization); I must stop to reflect that it could also be that he is thinking about his things, that he slept badly, or that day he had an argument with his partner, or... thousands of reasons that perhaps have nothing to do with me.
María José Ortega, Health Psychologist