Cognitive Distortion — It’s All In the Family

I had an opportunity recently to visit with a professional whose mantra is “If you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel.  And if you change the way you feel, you will change the way you act…” or something  like that.

Sounded a little new age-ish and completely avoiding reality to me.  But I stuck around to see where he was going with it.  I can’t recall ever seeing that theory before by any legitimate source.  It sounded suspiciously akin to some ancient eastern philosophies and modern-day spiritual gurus though.  I was shocked when I flipped through a book at Goodwill and happened upon the previous owner’s worksheet that outlined this specific thought process in a self-help format.

Turns out this is classic cognitive behavioral therapy.  Considering how many years I spent in therapy in my younger years, I don’t know how I missed it.

It also turns out that in some circumstances, cognitive behavioral therapy is completely useless.  At least that’s my opinion.  I could be persuaded otherwise, and then I’d feel differently about it, and you might see a change in my behavior (i.e. writing).

Okay.   I am having WAYYYY too much fun with this.

Stick with me.

Now, although CBT turned out to be completely useless in the situation I was in, I have been looking at things quite differently lately and have seen a lot of application opportunities where it is very helpful, especially when I apply it to everybody else – (if you’d only look at things differently, there’d be no reason to be so upset with me, (daughter, son, fill in the blank).

And I’m even seeing a bit of application opportunity for myself – gasp.

Like the way lately I catch myself saying, “I can’t deal with this,” or “I’m not gonna make it through today unless I go to bed after lunch.”  I know, I know, it sounds pitiful, but seriously, I have seven kiddos and I’ve been known to do more in one morning that most people do all week.  I got fed up a couple weeks ago because I was sleeping my afternoon away day after day after day.  (Even just an hour or two of sleep tends to ruin an afternoon.)  My older children need me to be in the mix of things even though they can really take care of themselves.  When I sleep in the afternoon, rules tend to get broken, tempers seem to flare, and the chores never seem to get done.  So then we end our day with Mom upset, the children overloaded with all the work they have to cram into the last hours of the day, and nothing seems to get accomplished.

Technically, I shouldn’t need the sleep.  You can bet your bottom dollar I get my eight hours of sleep most nights.  So I started paying attention to the things that make me tired.  I have found that when those negative thoughts go through my mind, the life drains out of me and I get tired.   No, tired doesn’t adequately describe how I feel, let’s try exhausted, overwhelmed, burnt out, incompetent, and dare I say unstable?

So last week I turned over a new leaf.  It’s never enough to just stop doing a behavior (or thinking a thought); it has to be replaced with something in order to stick.  So I’ve been trying to cut those old thought patterns loose and replace them with things like, “Slow and steady,” “If I keep my cool, we can end this well,” “Even though this is question 1,217 for the day, it’s a legitimate question,” and my favorite, “Alyson, you cannot afford the luxury of this negative thought.”

Every single day last week a nap was the furthest thing from my mind.  Pretty cool, eh?

So, when I came across this thought distortion activity on Pinterest I jumped at the chance to practice some CBT with my family.

Children with Asperger's and other autism spectrum disorders can get quite a lot of upsetting thoughts. Here are 50 pre-written thought bubbles that are easy to download, print and use (teachers, SLP's, anyone, not just therapists).  Make a quick CBT, hands-on matching game or add a visual dimension to your work.

(Click the thumbnail to see the Pin or here for the original post and free printable:

Yeah, yeah, we homeschoolers even counsel our own kids.

Interestingly enough, this article talks about this activity strictly for kids with autism spectrum disorders and specifically Asperger’s syndrome.  People with ASDs seem to require this kind of  psychological intervention frequently.   Thinking outside of the box, I would venture to guess that the majority of people, yes, people, not just children, would benefit from this “training.”  In my experience of raising children, so much of what is recommended for children with autism (and other special needs) is just plain good teaching, training and parenting that benefits most children, it’s just perhaps mandatory with kids with autism (and other special needs).

Back to the link.  There are different ways you can use these printable cards.  I printed the negative thoughts on red cardstock (red for stop) with black ink and the positive replacement thoughts on green cardstock (green for go) with black ink.  Even Andrew came to the table for this one.  I read the red cards and whoever could relate to thinking that thought claimed each card.  Then I read the green cards and whoever had the matching negative thought raised their hand and claimed the green card.  I was stunned as I read through the red cards how familiar some of them were to me.

Hard to believe all this talk about stinkin thinking actually turned into a great family time of sharing our weaknesses with one another.  I’m going to keep these cards around for a while and pull them out when I hear (sometimes facial expressions are so “loud” I can hear them too) some of that stinkin thinking, I’m going to tell the victim to “go green” and find me the matching positive thought.

Now, I wonder who the first person will be to remind me about my own stinkin thinking.

2 thoughts on “Cognitive Distortion — It’s All In the Family”

  1. I am so glad you found the cards useful (I made them and posted them). Your blog post is lovely.
    I have posted a lot more CBT resources since then, including simple worksheets.

    1. Thanks so much! We wound up making two posters: Stinkin thinking and Thoughts of gold. When one of the kids would engage in stinkin thinking, we’d stop, put the thought on the poster i.e. (He is ALWAYS mean to me) and then put the reality on the other poster i.e. (He is usually nice to me, but every now and then he is mean to me). It was a great family project, and it created new thought habits, which was awesome!

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