Learn about mental filters and ways to overcome this type of negative thinking.
Mental filter is a term used to describe a cognitive distortion, or faulty thought pattern, that can often lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression. When thinking through a mental filter, a person is focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation and filtering out all of the positive ones. People with this form of negative thinking often see their glass as being half full in any situation.
People diagnosed with panic disorder frequently use a mental filter to sift out all of the pleasant and fulfilling parts of their lives, while bringing more attention to their inadequacies and dissatisfaction. They may center on their feelings of loneliness and avoidance behaviors, failing to notice ways in which they have actually learned to cope with panic disorder. Anxiety levels will continue to rise as positivity continues to be filtered out, while the self-defeating thoughts are intensified.
Below are a few examples of using this type of negative thinking pattern. Notice if you recognize your own ways of thinking in these examples and learn to reframe your mental filters to more positive thoughts and ideas.
Edmond is an expert in his field and was asked to present a one-day workshop at a local college. During his presentation, he notices that a student walks out and never returns. After class, many students come up to him to thank him for his valuable presentation. However, Edmond drives home feeling angry at the one student who left. Edmond also keeps anxiously self-doubting his own work, wondering if the student would have stayed if his lecture had been more interesting.
Amy has long struggled with major depressive disorder and anxiety. Through psychotherapy, she has started to learn how to forgive those that have hurt her in her past. By forgiving her mother, Amy had developed a closer relationship with her and had even started to trust her more. One day Amy opened up to her mother about her diagnosis of depression. To Amy’s surprise, her mother responded less compassionately than Amy had expected. Amy became infuriated and determined that she never should have forgiven her in the first place. Her mother apologized for the misunderstanding, but Amy refused to talk to her. Amy now feels that therapy was a waste of her time.
Edmond is so upset about the student who left that he cannot even acknowledge the compliments he received. He could reframe his situation by focusing more on all of the positive feedback that came from other students. Instead of filtering in self-defeating thoughts, Edmond can chose to focus on the good in the situation. He can recognize that it is possible that not everyone enjoyed his lecture, but that many students benefited from it.
Amy is failing to see the positive aspects of her relationship with her mother -- by only focusing on the negative. Amy worked up the courage and strength to forgive her mother and develop a relationship with her again. However, she is upset that her mother didn’t respond to her the way she wanted her to. If Amy recognizes this mental filter, she may be able to see things in a more balanced way. Amy can then recognize that her mother may not act the way she wants her to, but that does not mean that Amy’s gains through therapy were useless.
Only seeing the downside of a situation can be a crippling cognitive distortion for people with anxiety disorders. We have a choice to take notice of only the negative or to also see the silver lining in any given situation. In order to conquer this form of negative thinking, make an effort to match every negative thought about a situation with a positive one.
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.