One of the many consequences of abusive behavior is a change in the victim’s thinking patterns. After years of badgering, the victim finally adopts the abuser’s distorted reasoning. In many cases, the victim does not become an abuser. Rather, as they attempt to minimize further abuse, their survivor instincts take over in anticipation of the next attack and they begin to think like their abuser.
For a victim to recover, it is important to identify these thought patterns and counteract them. Dr. David Burns in his book, Ten Days to Self-Esteem, highlights these beliefs. Use this checklist with clients to better classify the improper thinking.
- All or nothing thinking:Do you see only in black or white, absolute categories? “I am always late.” “I never do anything right.”
- Overgeneralization:Do you see a negative event as never ending? “This bullying will never end.” “I’m stuck forever.”
- Mental Filter:Do you dwell on the negative and filter the positive? For example, in one day you might receive five compliments and one criticism on your appearance. You only focus on the one negative and disregard all positive remarks.
- Discounting the positives:Do you insist that your accomplishments and positive inputs don’t count? “My accomplishments don’t matter.” “They gave me that award out of pity.”
- Jumping to conclusions:
a. Mind reading: Do you assume people are reacting negatively to you? “I just know they think I’m stupid.” “They must be thinking badly about me.”
b. Fortune telling: Do you predict things will turn out badly? “There is no way they will like my idea.” “I just know this will never work.”
- Magnification or minimization:Do you blow things out of proportion or minimize their significance? Magnification is making a mountain out of a mole hill and minimization is making a mole hill out of a mountain.
- Emotional reasoning:Do you reason from how you feel? “I feel dumb so I must be.” “I feel guilty so I must be guilt of something.”
- “Should” statements:Do you criticize yourself and others with “should,” “shouldn’t,” must,” “have to,” and “ought?” “I should have done that.” “You must to do this.”
- Labeling:Do you attach a harsh label to yourself when you have made a mistake? “I’m a loser.” “I’m a fool.”
- Blame:Do you blame yourself for something you weren’t responsible for or do you blame others? “It’s my fault that you are married.” “You are to blame for my marriage falling apart.”
Once the destructive thinking has been identified, counteract it with the truth. Ask questions like: are you always to blame, were you ever on time, or do you “have to” do that? Then replace the negative statement with a positive one. “I’m a fool,” could be replaced with “I’m wise in this area.” This process is time consuming in the beginning but well worth the effort in the end.