Have you ever felt the need to please everyone? Or, have you ever found yourself constantly self-blaming in response to other people’s experiences? If so, you may be experiencing the cognitive distortion of “personalization.” Cognitive distortions are negatively biased thoughts that stem from a persons’ core beliefs. These thoughts in turn can lead to anxious and depressive symptoms rooted in misinterpretations.
Personalization occurs when we perceive negative, external events are our responsibility, even if there is no proof of the connection. Feeling responsible for another person’s happiness, another person’s good time, or believing that someone else’s social life or success is somehow reliant on your actions are strong indicators that you might be personalizing a situation.
Learning how to avert these intrusive thoughts can be harder than “just snapping out of it.” The reality is, freeing your mind from a cognitive distortion takes practice. Becoming more conscious and aware of how vulnerable the mind is to making mistakes can make it easier to counter the tendency to take things personally.
One way to confront this habit is to question the belief that you are responsible for other’s actions and experiences. Considering these beliefs, it is then necessary to contemplate how much control over these aspects you realistically have. Usually, this is where the distortion lies. Another person’s happiness, success, and value is rooted in their own personal experiences. Anywhere from their childhood life experiences to their genetic makeup is what shapes a person’s reality and that is ultimately completely out of your control. Increase your awareness of personalization by asking yourself these questions:
- Am I responsible for the outcome in this situation?
- Is there any other way to explain how things took place?
- Is there a shared responsibility for the negative outcome?
When we question our role in these situations, we can begin to deconstruct unhealthy thinking patterns and in turn, start forming a healthy mindset. Even with practice, it is still easy to mistakenly base your thoughts on feelings rather than facts. Fortunately, Cognitive Behavior Therapy can provide extra support in giving you the confidence to navigate your thoughts and protect your happiness. Decreasing the
tendency to use personalization will reduce stress and enhance relationships.
Written by: Rudairo Segbeaya, who received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco. She is currently working as the Office Manager at Pacific CBT while undertaking a Master’s Degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University
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