Has there been a time where you blamed yourself for how something happened or how someone was feeling, but didn’t have justifiable reasons to do so? Has that blame ever made you feel negatively towards yourself and impacted your overall mood? If so, these could be signs that you were engaged in the ‘personalisation’ thinking trap and ended up internalising behaviour when you shifted the blame to yourself.
These can happen to the best of us, but you need not worry because this type of thinking is resolvable. With awareness and knowledge individuals can overcome personalisation. This guide aims to help you do just that.
What is the Personalisation Thinking Trap?
Firstly, thinking traps are patterns of thought which are negative in nature. They ‘trap’ people into having certain views. Such views may be inaccurate versions of reality.
There are a range of thinking traps, also known as ‘cognitive distortions/errors’.
Personalisation is one of them. It is basically when we place the blame on ourselves for things out of our control. We can not or do not want to see that we are wrongly allocating the blame. It can be because our thoughts make us feel responsible for whatever happened. When we do these (putting the blame on ourselves, believing we caused it) we are directing negativity towards inwards. This can lead to internalising behaviour.
Why Is It Important to Address Them?
Constant exposure to these types of thinking can have harmful outcomes on people’s lives and wellbeing. If unaddressed, these thinking patterns can adversely impact the ability to form rational thoughts and unbiased views. Additionally, they can cause or fuel depression and anxiety. For example, it can influence beliefs about oneself, others or certain situations. This can contribute to negative feelings, self-esteem issues, stress, troubled relationships.
Due to the personalisation thinking trap, we think we are responsible for things that are actually beyond our control. If something goes wrong we then blame it on ourselves. Doing so is an ‘internalising behaviour.’ This happens when we direct negativity coming out of situations at ourselves and take it out on us (as opposed to others). As a result, we may experience feelings such as sadness, guilt, fear, shame and want to withdraw from those we are close to. There may be issues with our sleeping and eating patterns plus concentration levels as well. We may experience physical problems such as headaches and stomach pains because of how we feel inside. These consequences can greatly affect various aspects of our health and make life difficult. They need to be addressed before they escalate to dangerous levels and cause serious damage.
How Can They Be Addressed?
1. Observe your thoughts
Adjusting our ways of thinking to be healthier can help improve our life and how we experience it. If you’re looking to overcome the personalisation thinking trap, the following guide is aimed to help you get there. Change can be difficult, but just remember that practice is key. It will get easier the more you practice.
Here’s the list of things you can do:
Awareness is essential. Thought patterns can become habitual and often we don’t realise we’re thinking in the ways we do. Examining your thoughts is important because it allows you to pick up the unhelpful ones. If you’re having trouble sorting out your thoughts in order to examine them you could try writing them down or talking to someone about them. Doing this takes the bunch of thoughts clouding our minds and judgement and puts it in front of us. This is often a better position to view them. We can then be aware of how we’re thinking and attempt to change it.
2. Go over the evidence
Whenever you think that the blame for some mishap lies with you, look for proof. Remember, sometimes we’re just so used to thinking in certain ways that those thoughts occur regardless of whether it’s true or not. Chances are that if you often think you’re to blame for things this may not be all that accurate. What you can do is look at why exactly you feel that way- are there actually reasons to justify how you feel about the situation? is it accurate to believe you may be the problem?
Usually when we feel a type of way, we get carried away by it and fail to look at the facts that distinguish reality from opinions. There may be so many reasons why we aren’t to blame. However, because we believed it was our fault, we overlooked the evidence telling it was not and it led to adverse outcomes such as us internalising behaviour.
Reasoning out and rationalising with our thoughts and feelings can allow us to view situations objectively. It can make us realise that what we thought may not necessarily be what is real.
3. Notice the double standards
Many times, how people talk to themselves greatly varies from how they talk to those they care about on the same thing. We’d be understanding and accepting when talking to others about a problem they’re facing. However if we are in their shoes our self-talk becomes harsh, critical and loathsome. We don’t deserve this and it can be counterproductive. We need to replace how we talk to ourselves with how we talk people we love and care for. Gentleness can go along way and may even be more effective that approaching the situation with negativity.
Just remember, if you wouldn’t talk to your loved one like that, then you don’t get to talk to yourself like that either. Self-love is transformative and often the key that can bring about great changes.
4. Remind yourself that you aren’t responsible for others feelings
What happens when we believe that we are the cause of others feelings is that it negatively impacts how we feel as well. This can lead to internalising behaviour because we blame ourselves and then have to cope with toxic guilt. Always remember that the only thing we actually have responsibility over is ourselves: our thoughts, our feelings and our actions. In the same way, it is others who are the ones responsible for themselves. Remembering this will help minimise the number of times we are affected because of how others feel. It also helps us take responsibility for ourselves. You may do something and that will be your doing, but the way someone reacts to it will not be your doing. It’s theirs. You are responsible only for you. How others feel are because of their own thought processes and it is not something that you influence.
5. Practice meditation
Meditation boasts of a range of benefits. It relaxes people’s bodies as well as minds and enables them to function better. This includes giving them the ability to view the thoughts that occur to them in a calm manner and to prevent it from affecting their emotional state. As we pass through life’s trials and tribulations, a lot of our minds become chaotic places to be in: often wandering, clouded with racing thoughts, full of negative self-talk. Often we end up become controlled by our minds because our thoughts influence us. So, the mess and chaos within our minds get transmitted to other areas too.
With meditation, we aim to slow down our fast paced, busy selves- to relax our minds, slow down the thoughts and alleviate the fog created by them. It helps us to be more aware, more anchored and more in control. We are in a better position to view our thoughts, judge them free of emotions and stop maladaptive thoughts. In conclusion, practicing meditation can immensely help you in overcoming the personalisation thinking trap along with improving your life as a whole!
6. Look to reattribute
When this thinking trap makes you want to believe something is your fault and you’re to blame for it, recognise the other factors that could have contributed to it as well. It surely cannot always be all you, there have got to be other people or situational factors that did so as well. Keep in mind that you’re not removing blame from yourself, you’re just altering the blame you put on yourself which may be of an unrealistic amount. Doing this will not only help you feel better within and avoid internalising behaviour, but will widen your perspective of the situation and also help to find solutions or coping methods, instead of just bashing yourself within.
7. Be kind to your mind
I’m sure you’ve heard of this before, but that’s probably because it really is important: Kindness and self-love seem so basic, but many times we underestimate the transformative powers they hold. Practicing them can make such a difference in our lives. It can change our perspective on things which includes how we think about and talk to ourselves.
Life isn’t easy, and being harsh on ourselves doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, it’s actually unhealthy and fairly pointless. For example, who would you rather listen to? Someone who is angry, rude and hurtful or someone who is calm, gentle and kind? You’re most likely to have gone with the latter. They say that kindness goes a long way and there’s a truth to it, because we’re more likely to listen and take to heart positive words. If you make a mistake and talk to yourself patiently and understandingly instead of critically and harshly, you’ll most probably try and not make that same mistake again.
Why beat ourselves up more than life already does? Try doing the opposite and see how it works out for you. Who knows, you just might have uncovered one of the simplest, yet greatest, life hacks to exist.
8. Think about getting Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Seeking professional help is never a bad idea and is a brave step to take! Sometimes initiating change by ourselves can be an overwhelming challenge; it’s difficult to stop what we’re used to and do it differently. However, with the help of a mental health professional (therapist/counsellor) we can become closer to implementing this change and improving our mental and emotional health.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can address the personalisation thinking trap and the internalising behaviour that results from it as well. This is because it is specially developed to address unhealthy thoughts and actions. The professionals work with us to stop these or replace them with healthier thoughts and behaviours. They give us exercises and strategies for this which we can use well after therapy ends.
For example, you may discuss what thoughts come up in your mind when you feel responsible for others emotions or feel you’re to blame and the therapist or counsellor may rationalise with you and/or tell you what to do when you feel like that. In the same way they might also discuss your internalising behaviour and see to replace that with a healthier version. You have to then practice these changes and
implement them when needed. Eventually, you get better with time and this becomes easier to do without the help of a professional.
When thing’s go wrong it isn’t hard to fall into thinking traps. But the more we engage in these negative and self-defeating thoughts, the more we become used to it and get consumed by it. Apart from affecting our wellbeing, these types of thinking distort our perceptions of what is true and what isn’t. We can break free from the shackles of cognitive errors such as personalisation by noticing when they happen and correcting them. This guide was intended to help you out. Just remember, practice and consistency is essential and the ultimate keys to help you achieve what you want.
Gaining knowledge and awareness on something are some of the first steps to bringing about change and improving our lives. Thinking traps are associated with a number of feelings. Some of these are low self-esteem, anger and anxiety and managing them can make life much more tiresome and difficult. Epsychonline offers comprehensive courses on these areas. More information is under ‘Courses’ section of the website.