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By, Amber Russell, LCSW – Sept. 24, 2019

Our brains are powerful things! They are wired to alert us to danger, to think, to learn new things, to retain memories, and to find solutions to problems we face every day. 

Occasionally there may be times where you want to question what message your brain is telling you. Over time you may have developed some faulty connections called cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortions are biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us.  They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time.  There are many types of cognitive distortions. The following are some of the common ones your brain might use to trick you:

  • Mind Reading – Assuming you know what people are thinking without having evidence or proof of their thoughts:  “He thinks I am unqualified.”
  • Catastrophizing – Believing what might happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it: “If I make a bad grade I will never get into college.”
  • Negative Filter and/or Discounting Positives – Focusing almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom noticing the positives.  When you do notice a positive about yourself or others you discount it as if it does not matter.
  • Overgeneralizing – Perceiving the likelihood of a negative outcome based on a past single incident: “He is never on time.”
  • Polarized Thinking – Viewing events or people in all or nothing terms: “We have to be perfect or we are failures.”  
  • Personalizing – Attributing most of the blame on you when negative events happen and failing to see that some situations can’t be avoided or that others could be equally responsible:  “It was my fault my group got a bad grade.”
  • Blaming – Focusing on others as the source of your negative feelings or problems and failing to take responsibility. “My teacher hates me which is why I am failing her class.” 

Now that you know what some of these cognitive distortions look like, here are some things you can do to control them:

  • Identify your possible cognitive distortions – Create a list of troublesome or thoughts to examine and match up with a list of cognitive distortions to see which thought processes you tend to lean toward.
  • Examine the evidence – Examine your experiences that could be the basis of your distorted thinking.  Try to identify other situations where you had success or that proves the thought is not true.  For example, if I am being critical and thinking “Billy is always late” I would examine the thought and likely think of at least one time Billy was on time.  
  • Evaluate in a different way – Instead of thinking in an all or nothing way try to gauge the situation on a scale of 1-10.  When something does not go right evaluate it as a partial success.  Focus on what I did go right and perhaps rate it as a 6/10.
  • Define terms – Define terms to examine what they mean.  Examining global labels will help you see a specific behavior associated with the label and not a person as a whole. If you think you always fail, then define the term failure. Think about what actions made you think you were a failure and if the definition truly fits you as a person.
  • Survey a trusted friend – When in doubt, ask a friend.  If you think you might be blowing something out of proportion, check with a trusted friend. Ask them if they think your feelings are justified.

The more you get used to controlling the cognitive distortions, the less faulty connections you’ll have to worry about. Take control of your powerful brain and use it for good!

By Brooke Skipper, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 22, 2017 –

The word “FAT” …we’ve all said it about ourselves.  We eat a big meal or try on an outfit and declare, “I feel so FAT!”

Like all things we say and do, our children pick up on this “feeling” of being fat.  They watch us pinch and poke and criticize our bodies in the mirror; then they model that same behavior.

The end result is a new generation of kids with negative body images and all the consequences that come with it.

Young people with a positive body image feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed in life.  They don’t obsess about calorie intake or their weight.  They understand that eating is about fueling their body to enjoy physical activity and remain healthy.  They see their body as beautiful for the things it accomplishes, not its outward appearance.

On the other hand, when children have a negative body image, they feel more self-conscious, anxious  and depressed.  They are at greater risk for developing eating disorders and unhealthy habits in general.

 So, what can we do as parents to help promote a healthy, positive body image in our children?  Here are five ways you can instill this in your child.
  1. First and foremost, we need to check our own body image issues.  Our children think we are beautiful. If they hear us constantly putting ourselves down or expressing a desire to change the way we look, they will begin to question their view of their own bodies.  Pay attention to how you talk about food and weight.  Model positive body imaging in all you do.
  2. Talk in terms of what is healthy, not in terms of weight.  Never use words like fat or skinny.  Use the words healthy and unhealthy.  (i.e.- It is healthy for us to eat nutritious meals every day to fuel our body for the energy we need to do our day-to-day tasks.  It is healthy for us to be physically active and keep our body functioning at its best.  It is unhealthy to restrict calories or starve ourselves.  Make eating healthy, balanced meals and getting exercise part of everyday life so it becomes routine habit, not just a way to lose weight.)
  3. Eliminate the myth of the picture-perfect body.  Children are inundated with media images constantly.  In television, movies  and magazines, they see unrealistic bodies and believe those images are what they need to attain.  Beyond the Photoshop world of standard media, children have a steady stream of social media on their electronic devices.  This makes it so easy to compare their body type to that of their peers and to obsess over the perfect selfie angles and filters to achieve the look that will garner the most “likes.”  Remind your child that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
  4. Be holistic in your compliments to your child.  Particularly with girls, it is habit to compliment their appearance.  Instead, use compliments that address your child’s skills, strengths and personal qualities.  Remind your child there is so much more to her than the way she looks.
  5. Be aware of body changes at puberty  and avoid commenting on size or shape of body parts.  Children’s bodies can change dramatically at puberty, leading some children to feel insecure about their bodies.  Puberty also happens at different times for children, so lack of change can lead to your child feeling insecure as well.  It is important to talk to children about the normal changes to expect at puberty to help prepare them.  Being sensitive to these changes helps your child feel more comfortable with their body and you.
Remember, boys are just as susceptible to developing a negative body image as girls.  It is important to apply these tips to all children.  Like most things in parenting, a healthy, happy, body-positive child starts with you!