At the recommendation of a friend, I have been doing some reading on some common thinking errors and the effects of faulty thinking on one’s mood and behavior. For those who know anything about the world of psychology, this is basic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stuff.
It interests me because I am interested in people and how people think, including myself. And I have come to realize that I am “guilty” of many of these common thinking errors. (If you want to read more about this, just Google “Common Thinking Errors” and you’ll find a wealth of information on this. This is a link to a website I found helpful.)
If you’re a theologian and reading this and are immediately skeptical because it is talking about psychology, feel free to tune out. I’m interested in this topic because I am interested in being more productive, less discouraged about myself, and combating self-defeating thinking and behavior. That is all.
I have spent years telling myself that I am an idiot, that I am worthless, that I don’t have what it takes to achieve great things, etc. etc. etc. I have spent years listening to the negative and irrational thoughts that bombard my mind, and I am looking for ways to change this thinking.
Here is a classic example of thoughts that are not true to reality. I frequently have thoughts that sound something like this: “I’m a terrible husband.” This is what therapists would call “overgeneralization” or “Filtering out the positive/Focusing only on the negative.” It’s where you take one particular event and generalize it to the rest of your life. If I make a mistake, or do something not quite right, I am, in my mind, a “Terrible husband.” Really? Is that a realistic statement? Is that a balanced outlook?
Certainly I have done some not-so-good things in our 14 years of marriage. I have certainly sinned against my wife. But is it really true that I am a “terrible husband?” My wife doesn’t think so, at least, I don’t think she thinks so. I try hard to please her. I try to be helpful and not a lazy butt. I try to show love to our children, act in a way that is respectable and responsible, etc. If I make mistakes or do things that are hurtful, I do apologize for them and seek my wife’s forgiveness. Is that really what a “terrible husband” does? Am I a “sinful husband”? Yes. Do I cause my wife pain on occasion? Yes. But “Terrible?”
I’m also guilty of “Catastrophizing.” In my mind I think of the worst possible outcome of an action (like calling on someone who is living contrary to God’s will) and I often become paralyzed out of fear. This hinders my ministry because it causes me to hold back when I need to act. Or there is the all-too-common “All or nothing” thinking. It’s black or white. “This always happens!” Everything is either a success or a failure. Good or Bad. No “shades of gray” (No reference to the recent movie.)
What fascinates me about this whole thing is how sin is involved. How is it that sin has so damaged us that we can have such irrational and not-true-to-reality thoughts that enter our brains? This is not really about replacing negative thoughts with other untrue, but positive, thoughts. It’s not about being idealistic, but simply realistic.
Is it “self-help”? Yeah, I suppose so. I’ve always (there’s that word again) “poo-pooed” stuff like this as being beneath me or something that only fluffy, non-theological types need. And, I think that there is a lot of useless stuff out there in the market. But if I can be a happier person in general, and more productive, then I might be able to do my job better, and help more people because I’m not thinking about myself all the time (Personalization).
Maybe other people don’t suffer from most of these faulty thinking errors like I do. But believe me, I do! My inner thoughts on a daily basis can be so hateful and negative toward myself that I can’t even share most of them publicly. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
If anything, this only affirms what we know to be true about our emotions and thinking–they aren’t always based on reality, and, in fact, they can be false and misleading. And, if we believe some of these thoughts that we have about ourselves or about others or our lives in general, we may find that our mood and behavior are negatively affected by them. Even to the point of being detrimental to our health. Or dangerous.
I plan to read some more about this in the future. Let me know if you have thoughts regarding this topic, or would like to see more written about it in the future. The overlap between theology and psychology is interesting to me, at least for the moment. :)