Each day is full of new experiences. These experiences tend to either add joy to our day, take away that joy, or have no affect at all. This is all based on our perception. When categorizing these experiences, our perception assigns a certain level of significance to them. For example, losing your passport on vacation would be considered more severe than forgetting to take out the trash. However, what happens when forgetting to take out the trash might feel the same as being stranded in an unfamiliar place? When evaluating the significance of experiences, sometimes our perception can be magnified or minimized.
One of the most common cognitive distortions or “thinking traps” many fall into is magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization. When entangled in this distortion, the significance of an experience is skewed. In this mindset, mistakes or events that are perceived as negative tend to be exaggerated while positive events are downplayed.
Magnification can be simply explained by the phrase “crying over spilled milk.” In this frame of thinking, minor incidents are perceived as being much more important than necessary. For example, spilling a cup of milk or forgetting to turn off the lights becomes a major cause of upset when in reality, it is a minor occurrence. To some extent, we all tend to do this. Have you ever experienced ruminating thoughts about a comment you said in a group setting that did not get the response you wanted? This minor misstep might have kept you up all night when in reality, the group barely recognized it. This is magnification.
On the other side of the trap is minimization. When stuck in this thinking pattern, minimization causes us to be our harshest critic. Positive experiences such as getting a promotion or acing a test are downplayed despite the effort put into accomplishing this task. One common occurrence of this trap is when people are given complements. How many times after someone has given you a compliment did you reply, “oh, it was nothing,” or “no I’m not?” This is minimizing.
How to Deal with Magnification and Minimization
Overcoming these patterns of thinking starts with recognizing them.
Try asking yourself “what’s the worst that could happen?”
In times of magnification, highlighting other perspectives outside of yourself can help ground you over time.
Negative thought time.
No matter how hard we try, avoiding our negative thoughts all the time is not realistic. Instead, set a time limit for those ruminating thoughts to help you acknowledge them. Once the time has finished, this can help you spend the rest of your day more engaged in the present moment.
Writing down the things you are grateful for can feel cliche but over time can help you magnify the positive parts of your life instead of the negative. Studies show that writing a few things down each day that you are grateful for can improve mental and physical health.
Rupi Kaur writes:
“I hear a thousand kind words about me
And it makes no difference
Yet I hear one insult
And all confidence shatters.
-focusing on the negative”
In Kaur’s book of poems, “The Sun and her Flowers,” she reminds us that we are not alone in this trap of our own thoughts. Being able to identify the pattern is the first step in breaking free. On this journey try to remember that no one is perfect. Your flaws or mistakes do not overshadow the unique talents and beauty of who you are.
Rudairo Segbeaya is a Behavior Therapist and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. Rudairo received her Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.