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7 Toxic Thought Patterns That Prevent Happiness

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After working with clients for many years, I often see seven cognitive patterns that interfere with happiness on all levels, including dating. Today I will explore these seven cognitive patterns with you. Please read them carefully and see if you can relate to doing this type of thinking in any area of your life:

1. Perfectionist Thinking

Perfectionist thinking leads to misery. There can be 10 things going very well and one minor thing that seems somewhat negative — and a perfectionist will always focus too hard on that one negative thing. Let’s use an example from dating: If a single woman is dating a man who is cute, sweet, funny, very affectionate, generous, honest and consistent, but she finds his laugh annoying, she might obsess about that daily. I am not saying we should overlook negatives in a potential mate. However, I am saying everyone has challenges, so it is just which difficult traits you will choose to focus on.

I have not met a perfect person yet. Perfectionist thinkers are often too hard on themselves and they minimize their strengths and obsess about any weaknesses. Obviously this is detrimental when dating too. When I work with these types of clients I try to make them aware of this thought pattern and to help them to actively search for the positives in each situation and person. This allows them to be happier and more at peace in the present.

2. Comparison

Another common thought pattern that prevents happiness is comparison. With comparison, a person is always concerned about what others have and how they compare to them. An eye is always towards competition. If we look at this pattern within a dating context, a single person is always concerned about how beautiful single women are, or how successful they are. Instead of focusing on their own particular strengths, they are always engaged in a self-dialogue about who is smarter, cuter or funnier. This can only lead to depression because there will always be someone smarter, cuter or funnier than you in this world.

However, there will also never be another you. No one will have that unique combination of gifts and challenges that comprise you and the right mate will know it! So make sure that you do. I help clients combat the pattern of comparison by helping them to catch themselves when they are doing this and to consciously focus on their own strengths instead. This will ultimately lead to improved self-esteem.

3. Catastrophizing

The cognitive pattern of “catastrophizing” involves making something out to be worse than it really is. So, maybe your boss is in a bad mood and he snaps at you that day and then you “catastrophize” and you decide this means you will be fired! Do you see how you probably jumped ahead a few steps here?

Let me give an example of this thought pattern within the context of dating. Perhaps a date has taken you out steadily for a month, called you every other day and he has always treated you well. Then, one week he does not call you for three days and you immediately think that he is breaking up with you. You forget to take the bigger picture into account.  This is an example of catastrophizing and assuming the worst instead of remaining present and patiently waiting to see what happened.

4. Polarized Thinking

This pattern of thinking often places people in ‘either/or’ categories where there is little middle ground. So for example, by two dates you either decide that a potential date is perfect for you, or he is decidedly not “The One.” Either someone has everything that you want or you will immediately rule them out.

Life is not like this and in relationships there are often shades of grey. So I am not suggesting that you “settle” or forget the essential things you most want in a mate (that is black and white thinking to the other extreme). Instead, I am just saying that it takes some flexibility to make any relationship work. So sometimes I need to help clients develop a little flexibility in their thinking about dating and relationships to help them move forward.

5. Limiting Beliefs

A belief is a psychological state in which an individual holds a premise to be true. A limiting belief keeps us stuck in a certain idea so that we cannot experience anything to the contrary. If a single woman believes that there are no men in her area, then she will not flirt back with the attractive man in the elevator in her office building. She shuts down the possibility of meeting someone great before she even begins.

Limiting beliefs are a huge obstacle in dating and we form them around age, geography, love, the opposite sex, etc. I often help clients to recognize the limiting beliefs that keep them stuck from moving forward in their love lives and I have a whole section on this in my book, Dating from the Inside Out: How to Use the Law of Attraction in Matters of the Heart.

6. Personalization

Personalization is a cognitive pattern where we think everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to us. This can be toxic. For example in dating, if someone is rude to you or late for a date, it is because it is who they are. It’s not because of anything you did.

Likewise, if someone does not ask you out again, sometimes it might just be because they prefer brunettes to blondes, or they started dating someone else. A person who personalizes everything will immediately find a way to blame themselves for anything negative that happens. When working with these types of clients, I try to teach them to take a step back and consider the other person or situation as separate. This can save them a lot of unnecessary heartache.

7. Overgeneralization

This cognitive pattern is when we come to a general conclusion based on a single piece of evidence or a single incident. By forecasting the future based on minimal evidence, you run the risk of being very wrong.

An example from dating would be a single woman who decides that a perfectly nice, attractive date is not “The One” based upon one date. I have known a few examples of couples who had okay first dates, but then went on to get to know each other, fall in love and get married. So try not to ‘assume’ things too quickly based upon one thing or idea and give things a chance to unfold overtime.

If any of you have noticed yourself engaging in these 7 aforementioned cognitive patterns in dating or otherwise, then begin to develop more loving thoughts and it will be easier for you to date and develop more loving relationships over time.

Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman is a psychologist and the author of “Dating from the Inside Out” and “When Mars Women Date.” She also works as a love coach and runs groups on dating and relationship issues in Manhattan. Learn more at: www.whenmarswomendate.com.
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One Comment »

  • Schadenfreudian says:

    “For example in dating, if someone is rude to you or late for a date, it is because it is who they are. It’s not because of anything you did.”

    Late for a date? Who they are? C’mon, Doc…bumper-to-bumper traffic, or accidents is NOT who a person is.

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