Cognitive distortions 

I keep asking my therapist why I did bad things.  She said it doesn’t seem like I’m a sociopath.  She suggested one of my problems might be cognitive distortions.  I did some thinking about whether the various types of cognitive distortions apply in my case.

When I read the examples given, it was initially difficult for me to apply any of those modes of thinking to myself. Yet, my wife has accused me of all of those at one point or another.

All-or-nothing thinking. I do think I’ve done this before. I’m trying to recall specific examples. I suppose that as a child I told myself things such as, “If I can’t play that game well, I don’t want to play it at all.” I also think my mother sometimes contributed to those kinds of thoughts by agreeing that it was fine to give up on some endeavors rather than encouraging me to try things without being discouraged. Perhaps I later sabotaged my own relationships, with my wife, for example, by expecting that her entire sexual experience should consist of me or that she should have no history of sexual encounters that might have been as stimulating as with me. When reality threatened that expectation of mine, I perhaps told myself I therefore could not succeed in satisfying her sexually or being physically desirable to her. I think I then jumped from that belief into a sea of self-pity.

Catastrophizing. My experience with this may be similar to my experience with all-or-nothing thinking. I told myself that if my mate remembered one or more sexual encounters with men who were more desirable or more skilled than I, she would never really want me and would only feel like she ended up with me as a sort of consolation prize. I believed I could never measure up to men she had known before me.

Magnifying. Perhaps I magnified, in my mind, how much my mate, or peers, or even strangers might look down on me for being, in my view, relatively inexperienced sexually. Perhaps I magnified, in my mind, the extent to which my mate might fondly recall “good experiences” she had before we started dating. And, of course, for some reason I don’t fully understand, I magnified the relative importance of sex as a factor contributing to success and happiness, simultaneously neglecting or minimizing the importance of academic endeavor, athletics, integrity, family, or almost anything else.

Discounting or minimizing the positive. I’m sure I’ve done this. As a kid I think I sometimes downplayed successes or good fortune. I think I recall feeling embarrassed or annoyed when my parents made a big deal of positive things. Accurately or not, perhaps I thought they were being insincere. Or, perhaps I thought their positive reactions were over-the-top, out of proportion to the significance of the event or occurrence. Were they trying too hard? Or, was I being too critical? I also remember my father telling me, more than once, to count my blessings. I don’t think I ever really did that until after my wife discovered my infidelity (we call that D-day), after I almost lost our marriage. Is failure to feel real gratitude toward God and others a form of discounting the positive? Is taking my wife, kids, career, and other things for granted a form of discounting the positive?

Emotional reasoning. Perhaps this is what allowed me to suspend reality in the face of otherwise unacceptable risks. Rationally, I should have known that frequently picking up prostitutes incurred serious risk of getting caught, getting arrested, losing my job, ruining my reputation and my wife’s, and getting a disease from frequent unprotected sex. On some level I was very aware of those risks. And, no, I did not seek disease, humiliation, or other ills. I think what I did was a lot of inexplicably illogical self-talk, telling myself things would not happen to me or that those things only happen to other people.

Labeling. I don’t think I labeled myself. I may have labeled others. For example, I said cruel things to my wife and my former girlfriend, expressing my anger at the fact they had sexual experiences before me.

Selective abstraction or tunnel vision. Maybe this describes my disproportionate focus on worrying about my sexual experience, prowess, and desirability, often at the expense of other normal aspects of life.

“Should” and “must” statements or perfectionism. Maybe this was when I told myself a woman should be significantly less sexually experienced than her mate. Maybe it was when I told myself I should be the most desirable man my mate had ever known.

Comparing. Clearly, I unwisely compared myself to my mate, other men she had known, my peers, and even to the imaginary “average American guy” that I thought I knew from so many Hollywood productions.

Mind reading. At various points in life, I recall thinking everyone was looking at me critically when, more likely, they were minding their own business and thinking of other things.

Personalization. I do think I often took things personally even when others might have meant them matter-of-factly. Maybe this is why I had a hard time listening to constructive criticism, whether from my parents in childhood or from bosses or peers later in life. It was only in the years since D-day that I have made a conscious effort to not take things personally and to try to see the other person’s perspective.

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3 thoughts on “Cognitive distortions 

  1. This is an interesting post. I can’t identify with most of it but I have always been “black or white.” It was either right or wrong, up or down, in or our, true or false. There was (and is) no middle ground…no greys. Maybe that makes me a sociopath. I don’t know but I just hate deception. I can’t speak about the sexual part of this. I know Loser was far from pure when I met him and he didn’t have any problem being with tramps while we were married. I guess I could have imagined that he was recalling his past “experiences” but I never did. That wasn’t an issue for him. There was nobody for him to imagine.
    “Not taking things personally and trying to see the other persons’ perspective” is a good thing. It may be difficult but at least you are making a concerted effort. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

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  2. At times we all use cognitive distortions, sometimes to make sense of something though simplifications (generalisations) or by making a decision and it is helpful by exaggerating the pluses on the one hand. Often we use emotions when a rational decision is warranted and we use justifications and rationalisations afterwards to make our decision more rational than emotional. That is denial but it helps to convince ourselves.

    Black and white thinking helps me “the OW is a whore…and nothing else”. Of course she is not, she is a woman and she did bad stuff. It is on her conscience…

    Therefore we cannot be alone, we need people we can trust who give us feedback and who challenge us. Once you do not listen to this person and once you silence your inner voice (your conscience), you are on the path to just go and do….and later there is the denial, and all the distortions to help you to “talk something right”, that will always be wrong…and deep inside you knew it, but you chose not to listen.

    We all suffer from distorted thinking, but in regards to affairs, it does not cover the reasons why…it contributes….true….it helps with the denial process…true….but it is the refusal to listen to your inner voice and your refusal to think about consequences for your loved ones….that made you go ahead, again and again….and the lying is there as being open and honest and naked is scary….the consequences will hurt…so justifications are used to not disclose…..it is cowardly behaviour…and no one wants to be called a coward.
    and it makes it all worse….

    I use distortions and lying to myself, when I am cruel to my husband…and “rightly so, isn’t’ it because he screwed around”. I have all the reasons and I am on the good side as I was betrayed….but the truth is I am not on the good side…I am hurting him and two bads do not make anything right ever.

    I admire you and those who go naked and confess all and try to find out all that contributed to going off-rail.

    Thank you!

    Elisabeth

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  3. Thank you both for your comments. Lauren, I’ll soon post another two items I’ve written on this topic and a third I’m planning to write. They might illustrate that my cognitive distortions led to other problems as well, not just my sexual malfeasance.

    Elizabeth, yes, the failure to listen to others, and even to my inner voice, was the key, I think.

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