Brooke has long identified through her roles and relationships; mother to the uber-successful twins and wife to the philandering finance bro. She works tirelessly to make everything run smoothly, primarily to cover up her deep insecurity. And, when problems arise, she assumes they are her fault.
Brooke engages in personalization (aka self-blame), a distorted pattern of automatic thoughts in which a person consistently finds themselves to blame for situations or events – even when there’s no evidence to support this conclusion.
Personalizers constantly fear that others will realize the truth (as the personalizer perceives it); the problem is always them. This leads to anxiety, insecurity, and erratic behavior as personalizers attempt to circumvent their self-fulfilling prophecy.
Like with all cognitive distortions, we are trying to move from:
Situation -> Automatic Thoughts -> Emotion -> Response
Situation -> Automatic Thought -> Emotion -> Analysis of Automatic Thought -> New Emotion -> Adaptive Response
Tips for challenging personalization:
Reattribution: Consider the many factors that contribute to a problem. Ask yourself: Does other people’s behaviors impact the situation? Is randomness or luck a piece of the puzzle?
Focus on solutions: Instead of perseverating about the causes of a problem, concentrate on making things better moving forward.
Understand your role: Mindfully accept that you can’t control everything, and consider whether the situation is within your control.
Let’s apply the personalization tips to Brooke…
Brooke plans a shopping trip with four friends, but three leave her for other activities (SITUATION).
She immediately thinks people avoid her because she always says the wrong things (AUTOMATIC THOUGHT).
Brooke feels insecure (EMOTION).
Brooke acts erratically as she tries to be a more acceptable version of herself. The frenetic energy this act requires is off-putting to others, therefore fulfilling her worst fears (RESPONSE).
And add in the new skills:
Brooke considers what the others did during the shopping time and notices that they were motivated to do things without her based on crushes and professional obligations, not her behaviors (REATTRIBUTION). She then plans to spend time together when the outside world is less pressing (FOCUS ON SOLUTIONS). Brooke accepts that not everyone will like her and that this is OK, giving her the freedom to be her true self (UNDERSTAND YOUR ROLE) (all ANALYSIS OF AUTOMATIC THOUGHT)
Brooke feels confident (NEW EMOTION).
Brooke acts consistently with her authentic self, leading her to be likable and develop deeper relationships with others (ADAPTIVE RESPONSE).