Cognitive Distortion: Personalization
Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that typically support and reinforce negative thinking. When someone has grown up in an abusive, unhealthy, or toxic environment, this is a common cognitive distortion. Often this is a direct result of being told that the person is to blame for anything bad that happens in the family. For example, being told by a parent, “if you hadn’t made me mad then I wouldn’t have had to hit you.” This teaches a child that they are responsible for the thoughts, feelings and actions of others and this tends to generalize and follow them into adulthood.
Unfortunately, just because these folks are now adults and can recognize that the messages they got as children were not accurate, this cognitive style often remains. Sometimes a cognitive-behavioral approach to changing these thoughts can work. However, in my experience there is a need for more than a cognitive insight that these assumptions are inaccurate. The messages that we get in childhood that lead to these types of cognitive distortions often led to negative beliefs about the self as well. So, in the example above, the child may come to believe ‘I am bad.’ Until we change this belief the old ways of thinking tend to stay with us. That is why EMDR therapy is so useful. I find that it helps people make the leap from knowing something in their head, to knowing it in their heart and in their body.