The Committed Parent
Translating social neuroscience to help parents raise kids we can live with and are crazy about ~
1. Filtering: We take the negative details and magnify them, while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. A single
isolated from all the good experiences around us, we make them larger and more awful than they really are.
2. Polarized Thinking: The hallmark of this distortion is an insistence on dichotomous choices. Things are black or white,
good or bad. We tend to perceive everything at the extremes, with very little room for a middle ground. The greatest danger in
polarized thinking is its impact on how we judge ourselves. For example- We have to be perfect or else we're a failure.
3. Overgeneralization: We come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad
happens once, we expect it to happen over and over again. “Always” and “never” are cues that this style of thinking is being
utilized. This distortion can lead to a restricted life, as we struggle to avoid future failures based on the single incident or
4. Mind Reading: Without their saying so, we know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we
are able to divine how people are feeling toward us. Mind reading depends on a process called projection. We imagine that
people feel the same way we do and react to things the same way we do. Therefore, we don't watch or listen carefully
enough to notice that they are actually different. Mind readers jump to conclusions that are true for them, without checking
whether they are true for the other person.
5. Catastrophizing: We expect disaster. We notice or hear about a problem and start "what if's." What if that happens to me?
What if tragedy strikes? There are no limits to a really fertile catastrophic imagination. An underlying catalyst for this style of
thinking is that we do not trust in ourselves and our capacity to adapt to change.
6. Personalization: This is the tendency to relate everything around us to ourselves. For example, thinking that everything
people do or say is some kind of reaction to us. We also compare ourselves to others, trying to determine who's smarter,
better looking, etc. The underlying assumption is that our worth is in question. We are therefore continually forced to test our
value as a person by measuring ourselves against others. If we come out better, we get a moment's relief. If we come up
short, we feel diminished. The basic thinking error is that we interpret each experience, each conversation, each look as a
clue to our worth and value.
7. Control Fallacies: There are two ways we can distort our sense of power and control. If we feel externally controlled, we
see ourselves as helpless, a victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has us responsible for the pain and happiness of
everyone around us. Feeling externally controlled keeps us stuck. We don't believe we can really affect the basic shape of our
life, let alone make any difference in the world. The truth of the matter is that we are constantly making decisions, and that
every decision affects our lives. On the other hand, the fallacy of internal control leaves us exhausted as we attempt to fill the
needs of everyone around us, and feel responsible in doing so (and guilty when we cannot).
8. Fallacy of Fairness: We feel resentful because we think we know what's fair, but other people won't agree with us.
Fairness is so conveniently defined, so temptingly self-serving, that each person gets locked into his or her own point of
view. It is tempting to make assumptions about how things would change if people were only fair or really valued us. But the
other person hardly ever sees it that way, and we end up causing ourselves a lot of pain and an ever-growing resentment.
9. Blaming: We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other tack and blame ourselves for every problem.
Blaming often involves making someone else responsible for choices and decisions that are actually our own responsibility.
In blame systems, we deny our right (and responsibility) to assert our needs, say no, or go elsewhere for what we want.
10. Shoulds: We have a list of ironclad rules about how we and other people should act. People who break the rules anger
us, and we feel guilty if we violate the rules. The rules are right and indisputable and, as a result, we are often in the position
of judging and finding fault (in ourselves and in others). Cue words indicating the presence of this distortion are should,
ought, and must.
11. Emotional Reasoning: We believe that what we feel must be true-automatically. If we feel stupid or boring, then we must
be stupid and boring. If we feel guilty, then we must have done something wrong. The problem with emotional reasoning is
that our emotions interact and correlate with our thinking process. Therefore, if we have distorted thoughts and beliefs, our
emotions will reflect these distortions.
12. Fallacy of Change: We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need
to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them. The truth is the only person we can
really control or have much hope of changing is ourselves. The underlying assumption of this thinking style is that our
happiness depends on the actions of others. Our happiness actually depends on the thousands of large and small choices
we make in our life.
13. Global Labeling: We generalize one or two qualities (in ourselves or others) into a negative global judgment. Global
labeling ignores all contrary evidence, creating a view of the world that can be stereotyped and one-dimensional. Labeling
ourselves can have a negative and insidious impact upon our self-esteem; while labeling others can lead to snap-
judgments, relationship problems, and prejudice.
14. Being Right: We feel continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable
and we will go to any lengths to demonstrate our rightness. Having to be “right” often makes us hard of hearing. We aren't
interested in the possible veracity of a differing opinion, only in defending our own. Being right is more important than an
honest and caring relationship.
15. Heaven's Reward Fallacy: We expect all our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score.
We feel bitter when the reward doesn't come as expected. The problem is that while we are always doing the “right thing,” if
our heart really isn't in it, we are physically and emotionally depleting ourselves.
*From Thoughts & Feelings by McKay, Davis, & Fanning. New Harbinger, 1981. These styles of thinking (or cognitive
distortions) were gleaned from the work of several authors, including Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and David Burns, among