“Feeling Good” by David Burns

Our research has documented that the negative thoughts which cause your emotional turmoil nearly always contain gross distortions. Although these thoughts appear valid, you will learn that they are irrational or just plain wrong, and that twisted thinking is a major cause of your suffering.

There’s a difference between feeling better – which can occur spontaneously- and getting better – which results from systematically applying and reapplying the methods that will lift your mood whenever the need arises.

For this reason I call negative thoughts “automatic thoughts.” They run through your mind automatically without the slightest effort on your part to put them there. They are as obvious and natural to you as the way you hold a fork.

Nearly every depressed person seems convinced beyond all rhyme or reason that he or she is the special one who really is beyond hope.

All-or Nothing Thinking
  • -Tendency to evaluate personal qualities in extreme, black-white categories.
    -Ex: “Because I lost the race for governor, I’m a zero”
    -Forms the basis of perfectionism
    -If you try to force your experiences into absolute categories, you will be constantly depressed b/c your perceptions will not conform w/ reality
    -You will set yourself up for discrediting yourself endlessly b/c whatever you do will never measure up to your exaggerated expectations

  • -You arbitrability conclude that one thing that happened to you once will occur over and over again. Since what happened is invariably unpleasant, you feel upset.
    -Ex: “That’s just my luck. The birds are always crapping on my window”
    -The pain of rejection is generated almost entirely from overgeneralization. In it’s absence, a personal affront is temporarily disappointing but cannot be seriously disturbing.
    -Ex: Declined for date. “I’m never going to get a date. I’ll be lonely forever.” As if being turned down once meant you would always be turned down, meant all women have identical tastes

Mental Filter
  • -Picking out negative detail in any situation and exclusively dwelling on it, thus perceiving that the whole situation is negative.
    -Ex: Focus on a few missed test questions even as you overall got an A
    -You basically wear eyeglasses that filter out anything positive

Disqualifying the Positive
  • -Transform neutral or even positive experiences into negative ones
    -You don’t ignore positive experiences, rather you cleverly and swiftly turn them into their nightmarish opposite (or just something not good that doesn’t count)
    -Basic Ex: When someone praises your appearance you automatically tell yourself, “They are just being nice” and mentally disqualify the compliment
    -Whenever you have a negative experience, you dwell on it and conclude, “I was right all along.” When you have a positive experience, you tell yourself, “That was a fluke and doesn’t count”
    -By disqualifying you get to maintain a negative self-belief which is clearly inconsistent w/ everyday experiences

Jumping to Conclusions
  • Mind-Reading
  • -You make the assumption that others look down on you, and you’ve so convinced you don’t even try to test if it’s right
    -Ex: Spouse is unresponsive one evening b/c she had a hard day at work and you assume “SHe is mad at me. What did I do wrong?”
    -Self-defeating thinking may act as self-fulfilling prophecy and set up a negative interaction when none previously existed.
  • Fortune Teller Error-You imagine that something bad is about to happen to you, and you take this prediction as fact even though it is unrealistic
    -Ex. “Im going to pass out or go crazy” even though she had never passed out before
    -Ex. Telephone a friend who fails to return call. You then feel depressed when you tell yourself that your friend probably got the message but wasn’t interested enough to call you back.

Magnification and Minimization
  • -Magnification when you look down on errors, fears, or imperfections and exaggerate their importance. AKA Catastrophizing
    -Do the opposite w/ strengths

Emotional Reasoning
  • -Take you emotions as evidence of the truth
    -Ex: “I feel like a dud therefore I am a dud”; “I feel guilty therefore I am”; “I feel hopeless therefore my problems must be impossible”
    -This kind of reasoning is misleading b/c your feelings reflect your thoughts and beliefs. If they are distorted, your emotions have no validity.
    -Because things feel so negative, you assume that they are

Should Statements
  • -“I should do this”; “I must do that”
    -These statements cause you to feel pressure and resentful and end up feeling apathetic and unmotivated
    -When you direct should statements toward others you will generally be frustrated, self righteous, bitter
    -Should statements generate a lot of unnecessary emotional turmoil – when reality falls short of your standards, your shoulds create self-loathing, shame, and guilt

Labeling and Mislabeling
  • -Creating a completely negative self-image based on your errors – an extreme form of overgeneralization
    -Probably whenever you describe your mistakes with sentences beginning with “I’m a”
    -Ex: “I’m a born loser” after missing a putt instead of “I just goofed that putt”
    -Self-defeating and irrational: your self cannot be equated with any one thing you do – you are more like a river than a statue
    -Describing events with words that are inaccurate and emotionally heavily loaded

  • -You assume the responsibility for a negative even when there is no basis for doing so
    -You conclude that what happened was your fault or reflects your inadequacies, even when you have no responsibility
    -Ex: Mother sees bad report card from child, “I must be a terrible mother. This shows how I’ve failed.”
    -You have confused influence for control over others. What the other person does is ultimately his/her responsibility

If your perceptions make no sense, the feelings they create will be absurd as the images in those carnival trick mirrors. But these abnormal emotions feel just as valid and realistic as the genuine feelings created by undistorted thoughts, so you automatically attribute truth to them.

Your emotions follow your thoughts.

“I feel, therefore I am.” This attitude that emotions reflect a kind of self-evident truth is not unique to depressed people. Most psychotherapists share the conviction that becoming more aware of your feelings and expressing them more openly represent emotional maturity. The implication is that your feeling represent a higher reality, a personal integrity, a truth beyond question.

My position is quite different. Your feelings, per se, are not necessarily special at all. In fact fact, to the extent that your negative emotions are based on mental distortions – as is all too often the case – they can hardly be viewed as desirable.

Pinpointing the nature or origin of your problem may give you insight, but usually fails to change the way you act.

Your feelings do not determine your worth, simply your relative state of comfort or discomfort.

His habit of saying “It doesn’t count” successfully torpedoes any sense of fulfillment.

YOu may also fear success because you anticipate that people will make even greater demands on you.

Your frustration results from your habit of comparing reality with an ideal in your head. When the two don’t match, you condemn reality. It doesn’t occur to you that it might be infinitely easier simply to change your expectations than to bend and twist reality.

This frustration is frequently generated by should statements. “For all the miles I’ve run, I should be in better shape by now.” You may have the illusion that such statements will drive you to try harder. It rarely works this way. The frustration just adds to your sense of futility and increases your urge to give up and do nothing.

If you do nothing, you will become preoccupied with the flood of negative, destructive thought. If you do something, you will be temporarily distracted from that internal dialogue of self-denigration.

If you translate shoulds into wants, you will be treating yourself with a sense of respect.

It’s a basic law of physics that for every actions there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Any time you feel shoved, whether by someone’s hand actually on your chest or by someone trying to boss you around, you will naturally tighten up and resist so as to maintain your equilibrium and balance. You will attempt to exert your self-control and preserve your dignity by refusing to do the thing that you are being pushed to do. The paradox is that you often end up hurting yourself.

It can be very confusing when someone obnoxiously insists you do something that actually would be to your advantage. This puts you in a “can’t win” situation because if you refuse to do what the person tells you, you end up defeating yourself just in order to spite him. In contrast, if you do as told, you feel had. Because you gave in to those pushy demands, you get teh feeling the individual controlled you, and this robs you of self-respect. No one likes to be coerced.

Your error is your belief that motivation comes first, and then leads to activation and success. But it is usually the other way around; action must come first, and the motivation comes later on.

Remember the first rule – even if you feel the criticism is totally unjust, respond with empathy by asking specific questions.

A pushy teenager may crowd in front of you in line at the movie theater. A con artist might sell you a fake ancient coin. A friend might screw you out of your share of a profitable business deal. Your boyfriend might show up late even as he knows promptness matters to you. No matter how outrageous or unfair others might appear to you, they do not, never did, and never will upset you. The bitter truth is that you’re the one who’s creating every last ounce of outrage you experience.

Ask yourself, if the the upsetting situation that provokes me doesn’t change immediately, would I be willing to cope with it instead of getting angry? If you can answer yes, then you are clearly motivated to change.

One helpful technique is to transform angry thoughts in a creative way so they become less upsetting. Humor represents one powerful tool you can use. For example, instead of imagining wringing the neck of the person you are furious with, fantasize that he is walking around in diapers in a crowded store.

A second method: thought stoppage. As you notice the images crossing your mind each day, remind yourself that you have the right to turn the projector off. Think about something else. Find someone and have a convo. Read a bool. Bake bread. When you don’t reward the anger images with your arousal, they will recur less and less often. Instead of dwelling on them, think about and upcoming event that excites you, or switch to an erotic fantasy. If the upsetting thought is persistent, engage in vigorous physical exercise: rechannel your potentially hurtful arousal in a highly beneficial way.

Frustration results from unmet expectations. Since the event that disappointed you was a part of “reality,” it was “realistic.” Thus, your frustration always results from unrealistic expectations.

You reason: “I feel bad, therefore I must be bad.” This is irrational because your self-loathing does not necessarily prove that you did anything wrong. Your guilt just reflects the fact that you believe you behaved badly.

If you have done something hurtful, does it follow that you deserve to suffer? If yo ufeel the answer to this question is yes, then ask yourself, “How long must I suffer? One day? A year? For the rest of my life?” What sentence will you choose to impose on yourself? Are you willing to stop suffering and making yourself miserable when your sentence has expired? THis would at least be a responsible way to punish yourself b/c it would be time-limited.

Sub other words for “should.” It would be nice if…. I wish I could…. Sounds more realistic and less upsetting.

When people whine and complain, they are usually feeling irritated, overwhelmed, and insecure. When you try to help them, this sounds to them like criticism because it implies they aren’t handling things properly. In contrast, when you agree with them and add a compliment, they feel endorsed, and they then usually relax and quiet down.

Another person’s approval has no ability to affect your mood unless you believe what he says is valid. But if you believe the compliment is earned, it is your belief which makes you feel good.

If you do not get the message that happiness does not reliably and necessarily follow from success, you may work even harder to try to recapture the feeling you once had from being on top. This is the basis for your addiction to work.

You refuse to give in to the perfectionist habit, and allow yourself to become flooded with fear and discomfort. Stubbornly stick it out and do not give in no matter how upset you become. Hand in there and allow your upset to reach its max. After a period of time the compulsion will begin to diminish until it disappears completely. At this point – which might require as much as several hrs or as little as 10 min – you have won! You’ve defeated your compulsive habit.