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Magnification and Minimization

Are Your Cognitive Distortions Contributing to Panic?

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Updated October 24, 2013

Are Your Cognitive distortions contributing to panic? Learn more about magnification and minimization with panic disorder.

Definition

Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy that theorizes that we are what we think. It is believed that negative thinking patterns, known as cognitive distortions, may be contributing to  a person’s symptoms of depression or anxiety. When a person is thinking with the cognitive distortion of magnification and minimization, they are either blowing things out of proportion or lessening their importance.

Magnifications and minimizations means a person distorts his or her reality by being far more negative than what others would perceive. A person’s problems become larger than life, while the positive aspects of their life are ignored. People prone to panic attacks often fall into this cognitive distortion, which magnifies fears and maladaptive behaviors while minimizing one’s ability to cope.

Below are a few examples of magnification and minimization, followed by ways to combat this faulty thinking pattern.

Examples

Kim had rehearsed a speech for her sister’s wedding. When it came time to make her toast, Kim blundered a couple of words. She quickly regained control and ended up giving a moving and heartfelt toast. Afterward, many people complimented her on her speech. However, Kim complained that she is embarrassed by her slip ups and feels that she has ruined this special occasion.  

Alex has panic disorder with agoraphobia. He displays many avoidance behaviors, but is able to go to the store every week. While on a recent trip to the grocery store, Alex got into a small fender bender in the parking lot. He had accidentally backed up into another car, but neither car had any damages. The owner of the other car was very understanding and told Alex not to worry about. Alex was so upset by the incident that he was barely able to drive himself home. For the next few days, he went over the scene many times in his head. Alex’s anxiety over the situation continued to escalate and he concluded that he could no longer take himself to the store.  

Rethink it

Kim is magnifying her flaws and minimizing her accomplishment. If Kim were thinking more realistically, she would recognize that most people enjoyed her speech and did not even notice the small imperfections. Her mistakes actually may have made her toast sound even more genuine and sincere. Kim can miss out on the fun of this wonderful event by focusing too much on the few errors in her toast.  

Alex’s fears and anxiety became worse as he continued to magnify the accident. It can be anxiety-provoking to get into even the smallest of accidents. However, Alex may feel better if he considers the positives of the situation instead of minimizing them. No one was hurt and the other driver did not even think it was substantial enough to pursue for damages. Unless he stops expanding his fearful thoughts about the situation, Alex’s panic symptoms and worries will only continue to escalate.

Become aware of when you are magnifying the negative and minimizing the positive. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill? Utilize a panic diary to track how these thoughts contribute to symptoms of panic disorder. Make a column and write down the good and the bad of any situation. It can be difficult to notice at first, but even many bad situations can have a silver lining. Also, try to  keep in mind that no one is perfect.  Don’t let your small mistakes or flaws overshadow your all of your talents and achievements.

Sources:

Burns, D. D. “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” Avon Books: New York, 1999.

Burns, D.D. “When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life” Broadway Books: New York, 2006.

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