People who become deaf often prolong the agony that accompanies non-acceptance of deafness by telling themselves things that are not true. They fool themselves into thinking that their thoughts are accurate and represent truth. They are not aware that what they are saying to themselves will keep them in misery.
This article is the second in a three part series. Dr. Burns, author of The Feeling Good Handbook, suggests that people will start to feel better about themselves when they (1) identify the kind of thoughts that lead to an emotion, (2) recognize the distortion in the thought and (3) utilize techniques to “untwist” negative thinking.
Last month’s article centered on the connection between thoughts and feelings. This month’s article will focus on Dr. Burns’ ten forms of twisted thinking. Following each form of distorted thinking I will offer an example of a late-deafened person doing exactly what Dr. Burns says will lead to negative moods.
All-or-nothing thinking: “I need to have perfect hearing and if I do not then life has failed me or I have failed life. I need to speechread every sentence accurately. If I have one communication breakdown, then I have failed.” The distorted thought is that not everything in life is black or white. That type of thinking does not allow room for variations.
Overgeneralization: “I can no longer do this job because 90% of the job requires answering incoming telephone calls. In fact I can not work at all because every job will require that I can hear.” The distorted thought is that not being able to answer incoming telephone calls at one job means that you can not perform another job.
Mental Filter: “I have been deaf for three years now. I can’t believe I became embarrassed when I did not understand that person. I am never going to accept being deaf.” The distorted thought is that the person is dwelling on a single negative event and concludes that no progress has been made in accepting deafness. The person is not thinking about what has been accomplished in the three years but chooses to ruminate about one isolated event.
Discounting the positive: The late-deafened male has just finished conversing with a friend and receives a compliment on his improved ability to sign and he dismisses it off. He rejects positive experiences with the distorted thought that “I am not good enough”.
Jumping to conclusions: “ I am going to have a terrible time tonight because everyone attending the dinner is hearing. No one will understand deafness and I will surely be left out of the conversation. People will think I am stupid if I do not know what they are talking about.” The distorted thought is that the person is predicting what will happen (fortune telling) and concluding what other people will think (mind reading).
Magnification: “Life will be awful now that I have become deaf”. The distorted thought is that the person is exaggerating the importance of having the ability to hear and minimizing all of the other abilities the person has to have a pleasurable life.
Emotional reasoning: “I feel stupid when I can’t understand a person therefore I must be stupid.” The distortion is that the person feels his/her negative emotions are an indication of reality.
Should statements: “My family should be doing more to communicate with me. If they became deaf, I would help them out more.” The distortion in this thought is that people “should” live up to your expectations and do what you “would” do.
Labeling: “My signing is awful. I am a failure.” The distorted thought is that the person has labeled him/herself as a failure instead of recognizing that their ability to sign is diminished when he/she is tired or stressed.
Personalization and blame: “She never would have left me if I had not become deaf”. The distorted thought is that this late-deafened person is responsible for events that are not entirely under his control.
Let’s try this out by identifying twisted thinking in this case scenario: The late-deafened person has a fight with his teenage son. After the fight Dad feels pretty rotten! Since he wants to change the way he feels, he decides to list his thoughts and identify the distortion. Here are his thoughts followed by the twisted form of thinking. “My son should show me more respect (should statements). He is such a jerk (labeling)! We have an awful relationship (magnification – one fight does not mean the relationship is awful). He probably thinks that he can talk to me that way because I am deaf (fortune telling).
November’s article will offer Dr. Burns’ techniques for disputing these ten forms of twisted thinking.
Burns, D. (1999). The feeling good handbook. New York, NY: Plume.
(A reprint of an article I wrote 20 years ago, when I was the founding President of ALDA-Suncoast of Florida, a support group for people who have become deaf. The article appeared in the newsletter, ALDA-Sun. At the time, I was going back to school to change professions from being a foreign language teacher to becoming a mental health counselor.)