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It is what it isexcept when it isn’t

First I want to apologize for not having time to answer all the questions at the Dallas Conference in April. I answered additional questions which were emailed to me in the aftermath. If you still have one, please let me know.

One particularly intriguing comment after my presentation was: It is what it is. Deal with it. Move on. We all need to find ways to deal with it and move on. Making adjustments and learning more positive coping strategies are a large part of where the mental health piece (of the puzzle) fits.

{quotes}When diagnosed with a serious and life threatening physical illness, no one expects patients to physically heal themselves, accept it, and just move on.{/quotes} Why the double standard with emotional and psychological difficulties which accompany these types of illnesses The challenges of dealing with the illness and necessary treatments are not existential ones for the patient or caregivers/family.

Instead of talkin about problems, I will devote the rest of this column to walking the walk. Everyone will recognize themselves in some of the following common cognitive distortions as per Dr’s Albert Ellis and David Burns:

  1. All or none thinking: Seeing things in extremes with no shades of grey.
  2. Overgeneralization: Interpreting a single negative event as endless defeat.
  3. Mental Filter: Picking out negative details and focusing on them to the exclusion of other aspects of the situation.
  4. Disqualifying the Positive: Positive or successful experiences are rejected or belittled, which maintains a negative view of the self.
  5. Mind Reading: Jumping to a negative conclusion rapidly without bothering to check out the facts. Assuming negative things apply to you when they don’t (Personalization).
  6. Magnification (Catastrophizing and Minimization): Magnifying things that will make you feel worse (e.g., your faults or physical symptoms) and minimizing things that will make you feel better. This is also known as the binocular trick.
  7. Emotional Reasoning: Assuming that negative feelings reflect facts about the way things actually are.
  8. Should Statements: Using excessive, harsh and unreasonable commands and self-punishing thoughts.
  9. Labeling and Mislabeling: Instead of simply describing a situation or behavior, you attach a negative label to yourself. Mislabeling involves using an incorrect label that incorrectly attaches greater danger to the situation.
  10. Magical Thinking: Perceiving cause and effect relationships when they don’t exist or wishing for things rather than working for them.

It is helpful to read through these cognitive distortions several times to make sure you understand them and the subtle differences between them. You may want to circle a few that you believe you do in excess. Once you have done this, you will find it helpful to write down examples of how you may use these distortions. Identifying the distortions properly, and understanding how you may use them, will give you insight into your thinking and behaviors. We all use some of these at times, so try to focus on the ones which clearly stand out for you. This may help you manage your thoughts when they are difficult.

For more suggestions and exercises, please visit Try the exercises there over time, to evaluate how you tend to think about emotionally charged and/or unpleasant situations, events or interactions. You will learn more about your particular style and cognitive/emotional process. In turn, this knowledge will allow you to evaluate yourself and others more objectively. The goal is to learn to respond more rationally versus reacting emotionally. As always, your comments, questions, and topics for future columns are welcome.

It is what it is...

Posted in Issue 54 - Fall 2008


The P/P Registry has been approved by the Western Institutional Review Board (WIRB) and is actively enrolling participants.