In follow up to Jon G’s post, we have another guest post, today from long-time commenter Heber13.

As I’ve thought about the Jon G post on Blaming Parents vs. Mourning with Those Who Mourn and the many responses that include inducing guilt or looking back at how parents “should” or “could” avoid losing children by teaching correct gospel principles in the home, I thought back to some principles I studied when I went through a difficult time in my life, which ended in divorce.

I wondered how my family could be breaking apart, even as I was trying to live according to gospel principles that I thought were specifically promised to me that they would protect my family from the devil who was targeting families as the most important fiber of our society. I wondered about my temple covenants which held eternal risks and rewards.

All of these teachings influenced my thinking, as I went through my trials. I felt shame that I could not prevent what was happening. I felt guilt that I wasn’t strong enough. I wondered what could’ve been done differently in the past and where I failed. Talking to others, including bishops, seemed to provide a different opinion for every person I asked. Mostly, I felt misunderstood.

And why were my prayers not helping?

I came across the following materials, which focused me inwardly on how I process things, instead of focusing on the external world, and results, and my attempts to control the world and other people’s choices.

These went well beyond just my situation and questions, but seem to apply to all kinds of situations where people struggle with church and their personal experience, or relationships, or other stressors in life.

Sometimes we get into twisted thinking as we process what is happening.

Ten Types of Twisted Thinking
By Dr. David Burns

  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING. You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
    • Example:  The Church failed in one point, so it must all be false.
  2. OVERGENERALIZATION. You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
    • Example:  I didn’t receive an answer to my prayer, so I never will.
    • Example:  Joseph Smith was wrong about this subject, so nothing else he said can be accepted as being right.
  3. MENTAL FILTER. You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
    • Example:  The Church’s comments on homosexuality ruin everything else I believe about the church.
  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE. You reject positive experiences by insisting they ‘don’t count’ for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
    • Example:  I get so frustrated at Church they don’t even mention anything about Christ.  Meanwhile I have missed all the ongoing messages that day about love and service.
  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS. You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
    1. Mind Reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.
      • Example:  My bishop thinks I’m apostate.  He’s judging me.
    2. The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
      • Example:  My family will disown me.
  6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION. You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the ‘binocular trick.”
    • Example:  Polygamy is a huge problem, even if the Church is involved in lots of humanitarian efforts today…I just can’t see past polygamy.
  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING. You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
    • Example:  I feel confused, I have doubts, I’m not happy. That must mean the Church is false.
    • Counter Example:  This could also be a risk if someone gets a good feeling from prayer, and assumes that must reflect reality … such as investing in business ventures off of a spiritual experience, etc.
  8. SHOULD STATEMENTS. You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. ‘Musts’ and ‘oughts’ are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
    • Example:  God should have answered my prayer.  The bishop should have been more understanding and known what to say.  Joseph Smith should have seen the dangers of his actions if he was really a prophet.
  9. LABELING AND MISLABELING. This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. ‘I’m a loser,’ When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
    • Example:  Elder Bednar is a liar to make such statements. The Brethren are trying to trick us and make us all drones!
  10. PERSONALIZATION. You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.
    • Example:  My lack of faith led to the series of unfortunate events in my home.

For me personally, #7 (Should Statements) was what I struggled with the most when I went through a rough time. I felt I should have been stronger. I wondered if I could’ve prevented my crisis if I was more faithful. I forced myself to dig my heels in deeper to be more devout, that I MUST do FHE, scriptures, temple attendance, tithing…and on and on and on. Actually, those things weren’t directly related to my problem, but I had blinders on, and thought things should be better for me if the gospel message is true and I have been obedient to it.

I now look back and see how I limited myself from addressing my problems because I limited my thinking to what “should” be instead of reality and just accepting what was, and then dealing with that reality and moving ahead. It was the most twisted thinking I was caught up in.

Elder Bednar’s comments may be making some parents feel this way also. A family could be more active if only we had more family nights, or were more diligent or could’ve would’ve should’ve.

Now I have let go of what I think I “should” be as a Mormon. I let myself be who I am, and struggle to find ways to make things work with the situation I’m in, not worrying about what could’ve been, or what I think God should’ve done. It doesn’t remove my trials, but helps me focus a little more on what is important–and I find I don’t blame the church for failure to meet my needs (#9: Labeling or Mislabeling).

Moving forward to solutions is the most productive thing. If my child is now not active, guilt is not going to help me fix it–but if feeling some guilt helps motivate me to be faithful, and keep loving my child, believing they will return, there is value to that, when faith leads to improvement.

By removing the twisted thinking, I think I reduce the frustration in my life–even if I still have all my problems to deal with. It feels like I can move forward and make progress while figuring things out.

  • Do you think it is helpful to check your own angst against Dr Burns’ list of Twisted Thinking?
  • Do you think leaders of the church have some Twisted Thinking, and it causes us pain unnecessarily? If so, what do you do about that?