When things go wrong, we tend to blind ourselves to other’s feelings. We are more likely to fall into a destructive behavioral trap. Sadly, when we do, we cannot be empathic. We weaken that human bond that’s vital to re-grouping and resilience. These blinding mindsets make us feel dumb, powerless … and alone. (Of course you don’t make any of these mistakes yet someone you know might, so it may be worth reading on.)
1. Jumping to Conclusions
You interpret things negatively when there aren’t facts to support your conclusion. Two common ways are “mind-reading” (you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you) and “fortune-telling” (you assume and predict that things will turn out badly.)
“If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.” ~ Miles Davis
2. Emotional Reasoning
You assume that your negative feelings reflect the ways things really are: “I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person.”
3. All or Nothing Thinking
You see things as white or black categories. If a situation is anything less than perfect, you see it as a total failure. You probably have trouble, when faced with a plethora of choices, “satisficing,” that is making a choice with which you feel comfortable.
“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” ~ Anais Nin
4. “Should” Statements
You tell yourself that things should be a certain way that you expected or hoped they would be. We often try to motivated ourselves with “should”, “ought” and “should not” feelings and statements as if we must be punished before we can expect ourselves to do something – or not do something.
“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” ~ Max Lucade
You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it, ignoring all others. For example, one sentence of perceived criticism erases all praise you have received from someone. Just like healthy marriages, enduring relationships need at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions to thrive. Those with negative Mental Filters need a much higher ratio and, sadly, are less likely to attract it.
“If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.” ~ Mr. Rogers
You see a single, negative event as the extension of a never-ending pattern of negativity. Probably you use “never” or “always” when thinking speaking or writing about it. This is one of the three patterns of pessimistic people cited by Marty Seligman in Learned Optimism for which he offers alternative behaviors.
“Every person you fight with has many other people in his life with whom he gets along quite well. You cannot look at a person who seems difficult to you without also looking at yourself.” ~ Jeffrey Kottler
When something bad happens to you it is worse for you than for everyone else. You see the situation as being all about you without seeing how it has affected others or how similar things have happened to others. This is another example of how pessimistic people instinctively react to situations.
“We can often do more for other men by trying to correct our own faults than by trying to correct our own faults than by trying to correct theirs.” ~ Francois Fenelon.
8. Permanently Awful
“Behind the cloud the sun is still shining.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
This is an extreme form of all-or-noting thinking. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you attach an all-encompassing label to yourself: “I am a loser.”
“Don’t be afraid of opposition. Remember, a kite rises against, not with, the wind.” ~ Hamilton Mabie
You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize your positive qualities. This is also called the “binocular trick.”
“Never attribute to malice or other deliberate decision what can be explained by human frailty, imperfection, or ignorance.” ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner
11. My Bad
You hold yourself personally responsible for events that are not under your control.
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” ~ Longfellow
12. Discounting the Positive
You reject positive experiences by feeling they “don’t count.” If you do a good job, you tell yourself that anyone could have done as well and reject other’s praise.
“A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” ~ Winston Churchill
13. Attribution Bias
When Jonathan feels frustrated he usually furrows his brow. That’s why he thinks, when Juan frowns, that he is bothered. Yet, for Juan this facial expression means he is deep in thought. Don’t assume that when someone else does or says something it means exactly what you would mean if you acted that way.
“When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” ~ Tuli Kupferberg
Try the Flexible “Us” Mindset to Sidestep These Traps
The good news? We can change and draw strength from others in ways that encourages them to seek us out rather than avoiding us. By recognizing these very human reactions we can choose to pause, step back and see the larger perspective: how to care for the “us” in the situation rather than being preoccupied, only thinking of “me.”
That “us” stance may enable you to:
• Avoid deepening a rut of self-destructive behavior when similar situations recur.
• Bring out the better side in the others.
• Attract mutually-supportive relationships.
“If we don’t change the direction we are going, we are likely to end up where we we are heading.” ~ Chinese Proverb