Many if not most therapists, coaches, spiritual directors would disagree on the value of the narrative in helping our clients. Cognitive distortions may be the clearest view we can get on just how tangled up in a narrative we can all get. For those who journey with some variant of a mood disorder, these distortions can be debilitating.
When we lived in Salt Lake, we had a giant pyrakantha bush / tree in our front yard. It had beautiful red berries and brutal thorns. Its roots were tangled and twice as deep as it was tall. I found this out when I wanted to remove it after one too many times of getting stabbed by it.
The thorns of cognitive distortions can also be sharp and brutal, burrowing deep into the psyche, influencing decisions, goals and relationships.
Learning to recognize cognitive distortions is one of the first steps in getting untangled from them. Getting acquainted with the idea of cognitive distortions can begin to loosen their grip — just a tiny bit. It wakes us up to just how normal and insidious these thoughts are despite being damaging.
Nonetheless, familiarity doesn’t readily convince our clients that the content of the distorted thought is false. It feels as real as the stab of a pyrakantha bush.
Sometimes, adopting a simple reminder as a kind of mantra is enough to challenge and untangle from the distortion — a thought is not a story OR this thought doesn’t have to be a story. Christiane Northrup, M.D., would encourage humor and exaggeration with a countering sarcastically humorous thought such as, “I’m the VERY BEST at thinking the WORST of myself!”
But what if your client doesn’t recognize the thought as distorted. They are so convinced of its truth that you cannot help them escape the brutality of its thorns…because IT SEEMS REAL?
We can begin with helping them learn to recognize the difference between a distorted thought and a thought that doesn’t get them all tangled up in feeling worse when they already feel bad. In my next blog post, I’ll unpack one way to help our clients recognize thoughts as distorted. Stay tuned.