How do you define distorted thinking?

Discussion in 'General Parenting Archives' started by Wonderful Family, Jun 11, 2008.

  1. What is distorted thinking? Do you describe this when your difficult child keeps talking about being bugged, perception is different then reality - but may not be obvious to others right away, can't focus on what is being said? Or does this mean truly psychotic - well maybe not psychotic, but seeing things that aren't there and it's very obvious?
  2. Adrift

    Adrift Member

    Here's are some examples of my difficult child's distorted thinking....

    It's 95 degrees in his room.
    Mom: difficult child, want some help cooling your room off? We can open the windows and put the fans close by them.
    difficult child: No
    difficult child: I'm so hot!! It's boiling in here!

    We have two boats, a sailboat and a motor boat, not fancy but perfectly acceptable. difficult child LOVES to wakeboard and owns the equipment but will not step foot in the motor boat because he hates the way the boat looks, it's not "cool" enough. He has given up wakeboarding.

    He loves to snowboard but freezes all winter because he will not wear a liner under his jacket.

    He will not ride his bike because he has to wear a helmet.

    I think all kids go through this but with our difficult child it seems so over-the-top! He doesn't seem to learn or change from natural consequences. Drives us CRAZY!!! Maybe this is more of a control thing then distorted thinking but I think the two go together....

    I also think it IS all about perception. Maybe it's the perception that's distorted? What do you do about that? No answers here, just sympathy!
  3. witzend

    witzend Well-Known Member

    I found this article about 15 Types of Distorted Thinking on an Eastern Washington University page that was talking about stress. It's more about how we as adults have distorted thinking, but those thought patterns are learned in childhood. I looked at it and thought that all of us have some distorted thinking just to get us through the day, and that's probably ok. ie: "If I just get dinner on the table, then I'll be done for the day." When in reality, you still need to at the very least get things ready for the next day and get yourself ready for bed. I think where it gets us into trouble is when we allow distorted thinking to prevent us from bettering ourselves or being happy.

    15 Styles of Distorted Thinking
    1. Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them, while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. A single detail may be picked out, and the whole event becomes colored by this detail. When you pull negative things out of context, isolated from all the good experiences around you, you make them larger and more awful than they really are.
    2. Polarized Thinking: The hallmark of this distortion is an insistence on dichotomous choices. Things are black or white, good or bad. You tend to perceive everything at the extremes, with very little room for a middle ground. The greatest danger in polarized thinking is its impact on how you judge yourself. For example-You have to be perfect or you're a failure.
    3. Overgeneralization: You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again. 'Always' and 'never' are cues that this style of thinking is being utilized. This distortion can lead to a restricted life, as you avoid future failures based on the single incident or event.
    4. Mind Reading: Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling toward you. Mind reading depends on a process called projection. You imagine that people feel the same way you do and react to things the same way you do. Therefore, you don't watch or listen carefully enough to notice that they are actually different. Mind readers jump to conclusions that are true for them, without checking whether they are true for the other person.
    5. Catastrophizing: You expect disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start "what if's." What if that happens to me? What if tragedy strikes? There are no limits to a really fertile catastrophic imagination. An underlying catalyst for this style of thinking is that you do not trust in yourself and your capacity to adapt to change.
    6. Personalization: This is the tendency to relate everything around you to yourself. For example, thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who's smarter, better looking, etc. The underlying assumption is that your worth is in question. You are therefore continually forced to test your value as a person by measuring yourself against others. If you come out better, you get a moment's relief. If you come up short, you feel diminished. The basic thinking error is that you interpret each experience, each conversation, each look as a clue to your worth and value.
    7. Control Fallacies: There are two ways you can distort your sense of power and control. If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you. Feeling externally controlled keeps you stuck. You don't believe you can really affect the basic shape of your life, let alone make any difference in the world. The truth of the matter is that we are constantly making decisions, and that every decision affects our lives. On the other hand, the fallacy of internal control leaves you exhausted as you attempt to fill the needs of everyone around you, and feel responsible in doing so (and guilty when you cannot).
    8. Fallacy of Fairness: You feel resentful because you think you know what's fair, but other people won't agree with you. Fairness is so conveniently defined, so temptingly self-serving, that each person gets locked into his or her own point of view. It is tempting to make assumptions about how things would change if people were only fair or really valued you. But the other person hardly ever sees it that way, and you end up causing yourself a lot of pain and an ever-growing resentment.
    9. Blaming: You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem. Blaming often involves making someone else responsible for choices and decisions that are actually our own responsibility. In blame systems, you deny your right (and responsibility) to assert your needs, say no, or go elsewhere for what you want.
    10. Shoulds: You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you, and you feel guilty if you violate the rules. The rules are right and indisputable and, as a result, you are often in the position of judging and finding fault (in yourself and in others). Cue words indicating the presence of this distortion are should, ought, and must.
    11. Emotional Reasoning: You believe that what you feel must be true-automatically. If you feel stupid or boring, then you must be stupid and boring. If you feel guilty, then you must have done something wrong. The problem with emotional reasoning is that our emotions interact and correlate with our thinking process. Therefore, if you have distorted thoughts and beliefs, your emotions will reflect these distortions.
    12. Fallacy of Change: You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them. The truth is the only person you can really control or have much hope of changing is yourself. The underlying assumption of this thinking style is that your happiness depends on the actions of others. Your happiness actually depends on the thousands of large and small choices you make in your life.
    13. Global Labeling: You generalize one or two qualities (in yourself or others) into a negative global judgment. Global labeling ignores all contrary evidence, creating a view of the world that can be stereotyped and one-dimensional. Labeling yourself can have a negative and insidious impact upon your self-esteem; while labeling others can lead to snap-judgments, relationship problems, and prejudice.
    14. Being Right: You feel continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness. Having to be 'right' often makes you hard of hearing. You aren't interested in the possible veracity of a differing opinion, only in defending your own. Being right becomes more important than an honest and caring relationship.
    15. Heaven's Reward Fallacy: You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score. You fell bitter when the reward doesn't come as expected. The problem is that while you are always doing the 'right thing,' if your heart really isn't in it, you are physically and emotionally depleting yourself.
    *FromThoughts & Feelingsby McKay, Davis, & Fanning. New Harbinger, 1981. These styles of thinking (or cognitive distortions) were gleaned from the work of several authors, including Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and David Burns, among others.

    One other article talked about keeping a diary, which a child would probably need help with. "I can't make my bed." is really "I don't want to make my bed." "My bed looks terrible when I make it and it will never look good anyway if I do it." is really "My bed doesn't look good when I make it because I don't have practice, but I can get better at it if I try,"
  4. gcvmom

    gcvmom Here we go again!

    O. M. G. ! ! !

    You just described my husband! :holymoly:

    Of course, that was Life Before Lamictal (LBL)! He still has some of those habits, as I'm sure a lifetime of thinking that way is hard to break, but it is soooo much better. He's actually able to see these behaviors sometimes in the difficult child's and is trying to help them break out of that mentality. So there IS HOPE!

    Better Living Through Chemistry...
  5. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    Thanks Witzend. I have never seen such a comprehensive list.

    Just this week, difficult child called. The power was out in the city. I asked him what the staff told them to do since it is so hot. He said they told him to "go home". I live 4 or 5 states away! Needless to say I was very annoyed. This morning I spoke to the case manager. What was said was, "I feel bad for you that you are too far to go home with this heat". He perceived that to mean he should go home.
    My difficult child exhibits almost every one listed yet he is in touch with reality and is not psychotic. It interferes with his developing adult relationships.

    Catastrophizing is a problem with work. Because he was let go from one job means he will be let go from all jobs. One girl broke his heart so all will break his heart.
    He has so many of the types of distorted thinking that it's amazing he functions at all.
  6. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Neat Witzend. I'm going to print that out.

    by the way, distorted thinking can also be placed in the realm of rationalizing. There's a spectrum, just like everything else. For ex., when I was a kid, I took a doll (stole, actually) from a neighbor, because she was extremely spoiled, had piles of dolls, and literally threw them in the trash. She got upset when we took the dolls out of the trash and washed them and played with-them, but we argued that she shouldn't throw them in the trash, then. So she piled them in her basement. I took one from the basement, rationalizing that I would take better care of it. Yes, I did take better care of it. But it was distorted thinking/rationalization, because stealing is stealing.

    Another ex., almost all kids think that if they are going to fall from a great height, if they fall into water they will be safer. This is not necessarily distorted thinking--it's a lack of education. They have to be taught that falling and impacting from a distance and with-great speed, water can be as hard as rock. (A few bellyflops from the high dive will give them the experience they need!) If they continue to think they can fall from great heights with-o harm, they are using distorted thinking.

    The leader of the 911 crashes, Atta, had a host of distorted thinking, but the one I remember most was written in his will, that no woman should touch his body and only a man could wrap him for his funeral. As if his body would survive the impact. And this was an adult!

    I wonder how much of this our difficult child's do?
  7. slsh

    slsh member since 1999

    Witz, that has to be the most *fabulous* list I've ever seen! Thank you so much!

    thank you has problems in all these areas daily. It's very frustrating. While he has been truly psychotic on a couple of occasions during severe decompensations, the more life-limiting issues are these thought disorders.
  8. Nancy

    Nancy Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Here's an example of my difficult child's distorted thinking

    She rages over us not letting her drive in a blizzard to her friend's house, takes glasses out of the cupboard and throws them on the floor sending broken glass everywhere, threatens to break anything in the house she can get her hands on, gets the police called on her because she is completely out of control and says it was our fault for making her angry and if we didn't; make her so angry she wouldn't throw these fits.

  9. Would "minor" (meaning no throwing things or violence) distorted thinking - that falls into the entire list (great one) be an example of mania? My son has does all of these, and has to work to keep himself out of this mindset. Overall, he was never extremely violent, but was/is very aggressive and seems to just get stuck in this mode of thought.
  10. ForeverSpring

    ForeverSpring Well-Known Member

    Distorted thinking is described REALLY well in the book "feeling good" however distorted thinking (strange/wrong perception) is not psychosis. Psychosis is being out of touch with reality. That means the child may think everyone is out to get him into trouble (I had this delusion while in a deep depression and it was quite paranoid. I would whisper in my own house because I was afraid my classmates were hanging around outside, listening to me). Or the child may see or hear things that are not there, but they believe that they are. Or they may think they are receiving secret messages from the television or radio. Psychosis is not just distorted perception. You may want to pick up "Feeling Good" by Dr. David Burns. He goes into detail on distroted thoughts.
  11. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    Wonderful family, in a mania, I think a difficult child has "magical thinking" as well as grandiose thinking.
    In my mind,distorted thinking is self centered illogical connections. If difficult child sees a story of lightening striking a tree then everytime it rains difficult child will get anxious about storms and he being hit by lightening. Next step is he becomes anxious about potential storms despite the sun being out. It grows out of proportion with the actual threat.
  12. witzend

    witzend Well-Known Member

    I agree, MWM, most distorted thinking is not psychotic. It can be extremely crippling, though.

    Wonderful Family, I think it's very hopeful that you say "My son does all of these, and has to work to keep himself out of this mindset." He works to keep himself away from the mindset. It's hard for all of us to do that. I think I can look at that list and see at least a couple of things that trip me up on a regular basis, and others that regularly give me pause to think.

    I liked the idea of identifying problematic thinking or distorted thinking and writing it down and identifying other answers to the problem. I can see where that might be useful to me in some of my shortfalls. I also think that it might be helpful when husband and I are going in the total opposite direction because we think we know what the other one is thinking or going to do. We talk about those things, but talking sounds a lot more like an accusation sometimes, and writing it down logically might help.

    Again, that list was to help adults get past stressful times or chores in their lives, but I think it can be disabling when we let one of these misperceptions repeatedly stop us from moving past obstacles that make us unhappy.
  13. ForeverSpring

    ForeverSpring Well-Known Member

    I'd like to add that the "Feeling Good" book is about people who have mood disorders--primarily how they feel when they are depressed. These "thinking errors" tend to crop up in people who tend toward depression and correcting them is extremely helpful if one is willing to try (I did this in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.) The biggest perception problem of distorted thinking when one is depressed is, "It's hopeless. I'll feel this bad forever and it will never get better." That's "all or nothing" thinking, but you REALLY believe it when you're depressed. Are you psychotic? No, you are aware of time, space, where you are, and who is with you etc. However, this sort of dangerous thinking can send a depressed person over the edge since they truly believe "Nothing will help and I'll feel like this forever." So, yes, it is serious. No, it is not a form of psychosis, although there IS such thing as psychotic depression (such as when I thought my classmates were hanging outside my house, trying to listen to what I said). As soon as my mood normalized, the delusional thinking went away and never recurred, even with all the mood problems I had afterward.
  14. Comments around mania and the distorted thinking have been very helpful. Particularly since there are so many different definitions that I've read about this - a big range between what some people qualify as mania versus others; all very confusing. I agree with the definition that was written, but did have one thought.

    Is it possible that some of our kids are so smart and skilled at hiding what is actually going on in their heads; that their actual response is different from the way they really feel? They know it's not right - not sure what to do about it; and they try to fake it.

    I ask because my difficult child lies alot about things he doesn't want us to know about emotionally. In addition to other behaviors that he engages in while having general anxiety, cranky - very selfish thinking that other people see; I'm starting to possibly see other things such as comments about how he would never commit suicide (stupid and EMO according to him) as maybe being more serious than what they've been taken for in the past? (I never 100% believed him about this anyway). At the same time, I don't want to read into something or exaggerate in anyway to docs, him, or others either.

    General rule that my parents often followed was anytime we continued to deny, deny, deny something - it must have some truth to it - but then, I wasn't a difficult child either and don't ever understand how he thinks.
  15. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Is it possible that some of our kids are so smart and skilled at hiding what is actually going on in their heads; that their actual response is different from the way they really feel? They know it's not right - not sure what to do about it; and they try to fake it.

  16. witzend

    witzend Well-Known Member

    Count me in as a "YES!" as well. They have their own reasons for sabotaging testing and treatment. Not to say that they all do, but some do. Kids don't want to be labeled anything, they want to be like everyone else. If you think they need a label, they might try to sabotage that.
  17. Big Bad Kitty

    Big Bad Kitty lolcat

    Witz, thank you for that list.

    DEX is about 11 of those. His daughter (Tink) is at least the remaining 4.

  18. Wiped Out

    Wiped Out Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Great List-thanks! difficult child fits them all. Any chance this could go in the archives?
  19. slsh

    slsh member since 1999

    Sharon - I've asked the mods if this can be archived.

    To me, the difference between mania and thought disorder is that mania is a relatively transient thing, comes and goes, while the thought disorders are there 24/7. Mania at age 6, 9, 11, 15, and 17 looked very different in thank you. When he was younger, it was generalized irritability, restlessness, flight of thoughts, and a sense of a tornado trapped in a test tube ... he was kind of just bursting out, you know? Now it's a lot more silliness (inappropriate giggling, high-pitched squealing), grandiose plans, extreme overestimation of abilities, and a *lot* of pressured speech.

    Absolutely, I do think kids learn to fake things well. Years of therapy and thank you knows what appropriate responses are and, when inclined, comes off as a very together kid. It's short-lived though and I think the biggest "tell" is that when he does not follow thru with basic things (ADLs, school, etc) when you press him for reasons, his thought disorders come screaming through.
  20. It's short-lived though and I think the biggest "tell" is that when he does not follow thru with basic things (ADLs, school, etc) when you press him for reasons, his thought disorders come screaming through.[/quote]

    My son was exactly as you described when small. One teacher told us he was Satan Incarnate (exact quote).

    But now, it's mostly the distorted thinking that I see. It seems like its only if the anxiety increases so dramatically and his world spins out of control that he goes over the edge. I've only seen the manic behavior that you described a handful of times in the last couple of years. He'll have the general behaviors that you described as mania; but a lot seem more like a habit and attention seeking, especially at school.

    I just feel like we spend so much time keeping things in check, that there must ultimately be an easier way. My wish - anyway.