Self Doubt and 3 Things About Cognitive Distortion

28 years ago I started my college career as an 18 year old freshman. A few breaks, self doubt and a long road detour later, I’m back at that same institution with the elusive doctorate at the end of the tunnel. For now, there’s one major hurdle.

Finite Math.

I’ve written before about how difficult math has been for me.

And while I’ve overcome some obstacles, it’s still very difficult for me. It’s difficult because of basic skills I either haven’t practiced in 17+ years or never learned at all. It means I have to scramble to stay caught up.

Honestly, steps to make certain problems easier elude me simply because I don’t know how to put them into the calculator. Others are formulas I’ve never been exposed to before.

That sounds silly but I’m telling you, I’m fairly certain this complex calculator could launch a space shuttle. For now, I just need it to tell me how many peas were in each truck shipment of this word problem.

My other classes are fine.

Missed Quiz

This math consumes me though. It consumes me so much that I lost sight of one of my other classes this past week and completely forgot to take a quiz. Like, not forgot to study for it. I forgot to take it at all.

I wasn’t sick. There was no family emergency to blame. I just forgot. It’s even on my calendar.

It’s not detrimental to my grade but it was a simple, stupid mistake I couldn’t believe I had made.

I realized what I had done during one of my psych classes.

As I sat staring at the screen (listening to the psych lecture), mentally beating myself up over a lost 10 points (seriously, it was 10 points out of hundreds available), the image above was my professor’s slide.

We were talking about cognitive distortions. That’s when your thinking twists in ways it shouldn’t.

Your thought process doesn’t see events as they really are.

We tell ourselves things that aren’t accurate. Things like:

I’m so stupid.

I’m too old for this.

This was such a mistake.

I’m never going to make it through this.

You know, like all the stuff I was telling myself today. All because I missed a 10 point opportunity that, in the grand scheme of the class, isn’t going to make one iota of a difference.

So, why do these thoughts happen?

One short answer is they’re a coping mechanism.

Distortions happen because of adverse life events – abuse, trauma, mental health challenges are just a few.

In my case, someone in my life constantly told me I was a failure. By telling myself how awful I was, I mentally beat them to the punch of hurting me. When they told me I was stupid, it didn’t sting as bad because I had told myself the same thing hundreds of times in my head.

This was the first hard hit confrontation ABOUT an episode DURING an episode though.

Tears streamed as I recognized the thought process, not as truth, but as my brain kicking into overdrive over a simple, not stupid, mistake.

In the moments of talking down to myself, it’s hard to stop and rationally consider what’s happening. Later, I can try to reprocess whatever brought on the thoughts but, while they’re happening Im usually not in a good place to self-evaluate.

Learning to self-evaluate has taken a lot…I mean a LOT of practice and obviously, like today, I still have my moments.

How can we combat the negative thoughts and self doubt?

1) Realize it’s more than just self doubt. You have to retrain your brain. Sometimes we convince ourselves if we change certain things, the negative self-talk will go away…if I lose weight, get a better job, wear certain clothes, fix this flaw, didn’t have that problem…etc.

The fix doesn’t come with changing the superficial exterior. * It comes from getting help in learning how to reprocess your thought patterns. So, be prepared for the long haul. This is going to take work.

*abusive, dangerous and substance situations not included

2) Combat the thoughts. When the bad stuff comes to mind, counter it with truth.

I’m stupid vs I made a mistake that could have been avoided. I’ll do better next time.

Sometimes that can be hard to do. It can be hard to tell myself something positive when I don’t FEEL like anything is going right. In those cases, I have scripture ready. I may not love me in that moment, but God still does, and His words trump mine any day. Here’s a few to put in your pocket.

Romans 15:!3
Isaiah 41:10
1 Peter 5:7

We were made in the image of God and He we weren’t create us to constantly beat ourselves up and let self doubt defeat us. Have your knock-out punch ready before you need it.

3) Prepare yourself to acknowledge the thoughts (and reach out for help when needed).

This kind of negative thinking doesn’t just happen on its own. Something causes it. That ride back to the beginning can be rough. Revisiting emotional moments is a painful process but continuing to ignore whatever has happened to you is worse.

Reaching out to a good counseling service, who can help you on your path to healing, is important. Our mental health isn’t always something to self-treat. Sure, there are some things you can do on your own but personally, I think everyone needs a good therapist. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Trust me, I know it can be scary, but avoidance can only be use as a crutch for so long.

Don’t give up!

Ultimately, you’re not all those negative things you try to convince yourself of. Self doubt can be overwhelming but give yourself permission to heal and be whole. You’re worth it.

As for me, I’ve decided a written planner might be in my best interest. Hopefully looking at it will keep me from glossing over another assignment and I’m meeting with a math tutor tomorrow. Hopefully they can help me figure out the pea trucks.

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