I’m a Terrible Husband, and other Overgeneralizations

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. 🙂

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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8 Responses to I’m a Terrible Husband, and other Overgeneralizations

  1. Fr. Patrick says:

    Even the black and white fallacy can be fallacious in two different ways: not only by being a false choice between two absolutes when there are other options, but also by failing to notice the paradox that they might both be true at the same time. Simul justus et peccator, or Old Adam and New Adam, anyone? Sometimes the question isn’t “Which is true?” (maybe both are simultaneously), but “which is more important as a matter of core identity?” This is not a mere matter of psychology, but of ontology (which runs deeper), isn’t it? The mind is itself an intricate tangle, but having the mind of Christ is the only way to clarity. And this is a matter of God’s image and ever-growing likeness in us by Communion with Him. Ontology trumps all else. Fixing my eyes on myself always gives me GROUNDS for doubt. Fixing my eyes on Jesus is radically different. This is not to suggest that introspection is without value, or that the disciplines of the Church don’t involve self-examination- certainly they do. But the desert fathers are a better guide to this than any of the findings of psychology that I have seen. And the reason is the focus on what is objective and often paradoxical sounding: that Wisdom of God that baffles human insight by itself, and involves Communion in Virtue, God’s Logos.

  2. John J Flanagan says:

    I think you need to google “deductive and inductive reasoning” and it will give you an idea of how you may arrive at erroneous conclusions about your own views, and how your actions develop from views and attitudes. Be more wise and analytical. Test your ideas and opinions BEFORE you speak. I begin my morning with reciting from memory Col 3:16-17 and John 3:30. Then I CONSECRATE the day to the Lord, and ask Him to help me CONCENTRATE, or focus on my work, my actions, especially my words. I pray short prayers throughout my day. This is what you should do….God bless.

  3. Benjamin Mayes says:

    I’m glad you’re looking into this. I think it’s beneficial. And I’ll add my 2 cents. Some people hate themselves. Other people love themselves. I think both are wrong to some extent. Instead we should be thankful to our Maker for creating us, putting us in our vocations, giving us daily bread, and redeeming us. You have much for which to be thankful, Paul!

  4. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Thanks for your comment Ben. I agree with you. To hate yourself is to hate what the Lord has made. To love yourself is to focus on the gift rather than the Giver. Both have their pitfalls. I would describe my own mental state as being more self-loathing. But the thing is, it is much of the time illogical. Like, it is irrational and not accurate to tell myself, “I can’t accomplish anything.” I accomplish things every day. I take care of a family, and a flock (though imperfectly). So, what is interesting to me is how our thoughts and feelings are often not true to reality. And by stopping and evaluating those thoughts according to what we know to be factual can really change the mood.

  5. Amy says:

    Just for the record…you are not a “Terrible Husband”! 🙂 And, I appreciate that you are exploring this study of the mind. I know you are a great theologian…you know all about ontology and having hymns and bible passages memorized to get you through the day. Psychology is not all Freudian bunk ( I know–got a minor in it in college) and there are many good things to be gained from this gift God has given to us. Mental health issues are still stigmatized in today’s society. It is sad but true. You can have a rock solid Faith in Christ and still be unable to function due to a debilitating and paralyzing mental illness- such as depression or anxiety. I know. I live with this and still cling to Christ. My husband supports me and is doing some of this research to not only understand himself but to understand me as well. And I love him for it!

  6. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Fr. Patrick, I don’t disagree with you that understanding your identity in Christ is essential for the Christian, but as you said, the mind is an intricate tangle. All I am seeking to do is to better understand how the mind works, and how some of the thoughts that automatically “pop into” one’s head can be fraught with irrationality and not true to reality. Can you disagree that learning to recognize bad thought patterns in yourself can help you enjoy life a bit more?

    • Fr. Patrick says:

      Certainly. Growth in the virtues is application of the antidote to the vices. As long as we understand that the answer to the vices we find is always the virtues which are found in the life of Christ, given for and into us in the Media Salutis, so that our interest isn’t turned in ourselves, since that will quickly tend to make our reflection morbid and a barrier to our growth in Christ.

  7. Edgar Cohen says:

    Wow! I am going through the same thing!! I recognize all those cognitive therapy terms and I am guilty of doing all of those “thinking errors”. Thanks for making the connection between this and what God wants us to be.

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