Distorted thinking. We all suffer from it to varying degrees. It’s part of human nature. As creative, thinking animals, it’s inevitable that sometimes our perceptions of reality will not match actual reality.
Having distorted thoughts is not really the issue though. What matters is how how we react to them when they occur. Accepting distorted thoughts as reality often causes undue suffering to the person having them.
One of the most common forms of distorted thinking is when we accept our thoughts as facts. This means that we mistake what’s going on in our heads as objective reality. This tends to be particularly true of people with anxiety disorders, because when we’re anxious, we are more likely to mistake our fear-based thoughts as facts. But they’re not.
Let’s say that highway driving makes you very nervous. It’s a common problem for people with driving anxiety. As a result, you might think something like, “If I drive on the highway, I will have an accident. It’s much safer if I avoid highways.”
While it’s true that highway driving does carry some risk, it’s also true that millions of people do it everyday without incident. The thought, “I WILL have an accident if I drive on the highway” is simply not a factual statement. It’s an example of how we take thoughts, particularly fear-based ones, and react towards them as if they are real.
Do this long enough and you may stop driving on highways altogether, in which case you’ve gone from having driving anxiety to full-fledged driving phobia. That’s why it’s important that we learn how to challenge this type of thought distortion.
While it’s true that we all have distorted thinking in some ways, we can train ourselves to stop accepting anxious thoughts as facts. Just because we believe some of our thoughts are true doesn’t make them real. Our thoughts are nothing more than what they are: just thoughts.