Fake News, Creativity, Fact Checking, Happiness

Three people thinkingIf I am someone with depression, I may go to a cognitive therapist. The cognitive therapist will then coach me on identifying my cognitive distortions, like all/nothing thinking, fortune-telling, discounting, labeling, over-generalization, and so on. The handbook for this is David Burns, The Feeling Good Handbook. If it had been published by another publisher in another time, it might have been called Cognitive Therapy for Dummies, except when you’re already depressed you don’t want to be called a dummy.

So here’s the thing, for me, about cognitive therapy. If I’m already depressed and wouldn’t like to get my treatment from a book like Cognitive Therapy for Dummies, I might also be a little sensitive about being told that a lot of my thinking consisted of cognitive distortions, either. So how to use the fearsome weapons of cognitive therapy to get on the right track without having to give my thinking a negative label, in effect kicking myself while I’m down? And how do I use the techniques without buying into the negative labels?

Here’s my suggestion: I see myself as a creative story-teller. As I go through life, I interact with people & the world, and I get a few facts, which I then use as the basis for making up stories. I’m a creative person and I like to make up stories. So, for example, someone invites me to a party. I start to make up a story– “I’ll go to the party, I won’t know anyone, I’ll feel shy and alone, will get even more depressed watching people have fun, will spend all my time eating junk food, maybe drink too much & make a fool of myself, and will have a terrible time.” My cognitive therapist tells me that I’m engaged in the cognitive distortion of fortune-telling and also all/nothing thinking. “I won’t know anyone” is obviously false– I got invited, so I know the host. Also, I’m making up a (sad) story about a future that hasn’t happened– fortune-telling.

So, bummer. I’m invited to this horrible party and now I’m thinking bad thoughts on top of it. Or, I could just think of myself as a journalist, or the editor of my own script. What are the facts? The fact is, I got invited to a party. That’s nice. All the rest is made up. I’m not a bad person, I’m just someone making up a story, and I fell in love with my own story so much that I forgot I made it up. Wow, I’m a great story-teller. But my story is a sad story. I’ve just been victimized by fake news– that I made up myself. So after I fact check myself, I make up a different story. In this story, I go to the party, decide I’m not having a good time, and leave early. So I don’t pig out on junk food, get drunk and disgrace myself. Or I make up another story– I go to the party, get the host to introduce me to some people, and make new friends, or reconnect with old ones. In actuality, given that my only real fact is being invited to a party, I can make up many stories, and they can all be more positive than the original bummer story. In fact, I have the ability to make up stories where I have some control– I decide to bring healthy snacks and non-alcoholic beverages to the party.

You get the idea.

image from : https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/support-us/get-involved/quiz.aspx

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About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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