Shame also underlies personalization. It’s when we take personal responsibility for things over which we have no control. We might also blame ourselves when anything bad happens as well as take the blame for things that happen to other people – even when it’s attributable to their own actions! We can end up always feeling guilty or like a victim. If you’re plagued by guilt, it may be a symptom of toxic shame. Take steps to analyze and free yourself of guilt. (See Freedom from Guilt: Finding Self-Forgiveness.)
Black and White Thinking
Do you think in absolutes? Things are all-or-nothing. You’re the best or the worst, right or wrong, good or bad. When you say always or never, it’s a clue that you may be thinking in absolutes. This involves magnification. If one thing goes wrong, we feel defeated. Why bother? “If I can’t do my entire workout, there’s no point to exercise at all.” There’s no gray and no flexibility. But there are always extenuating circumstances. What applies in one instance may not be appropriate in another. An all-or-nothing attitude can cause you to overdo or miss out on opportunities to improve and gradually attain your goals. Exercising for ten minutes or only some muscle groups has big health benefits, compared to doing nothing. There are health risks to overdoing, as well. If you do everyone’s job, work overtime, and never ask for help, you will soon been drained, resentful, and eventually, ill.
Projecting the Negative
Self-criticism and shame generate anticipation of failing and rejection. The future looms as a dangerous threat, rather than a safe arena to explore and enjoy our lives. We may be projecting the unsafe home environment from our childhood and living as if it were happening now. Perfectionists also distort reality by assuming negative events or negative outcomes are more likely to occur than positive ones. This creates tremendous anxiety about failing, making mistakes, and being judged.
Overgeneralizations are opinions or statements that go beyond the truth or are broader than specific instances. We might form a belief based on little evidence or only one example. We can jump from “Mary doesn’t like me,” to “Nobody likes me.” When we generalize about a group of people or gender, it’s usually false. When we use the words, “all” or “none,” “always” or “never,” we probably are making an overgeneralization, based on black-and-white thinking. Another overgeneralization is when we project the past onto the future.
Perfectionists tend to overgeneralize by making global, negative attributions about themselves and about their negative projections. When we don’t measure up to our rigid, unrealistic standards, we not only think the worst of ourselves, we expect the worst will happen. To overcome perfectionism, see “I’m Not Perfect, I’m Only Human” – How to Beat Perfectionism.
©Darlene Lancer, 2018