Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Softening Your Attitude Towards The People You Care About

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When we get to know people really well superficiality necessarily makes way for authenticity and suddenly we’re exposed to less than desirable character traits and behaviors. We start to see the bad along with the good, we experience people in all their humanness. And we might not like it.

Most of us implicitly know that we need intimate connections to be happy and healthy but we don’t think too much about what intimate connections entail. We’re all mixed bags. As Freud might have said we all have the life instinct and the death instinct battling for supremacy within the psyche. When our relationships get real it means warts and all.

As time goes by the cognitive distortion called all or nothing thinking can compel us to stop recognizing or appreciating the good, desirable qualities and behaviors of the people we purport to care about and instead focus all our attention on their bad, undesirable qualities. What’s funny to realize is that the rose colored glasses we tend to wear at the very beginning of relationships, where we only see the good and desirable, is just as much an example of all or nothing thinking.

So softening your attitude towards the people you care about starts with the insight that what you might be taking to be objective reality beyond the need for any critical thought is actually a biased perception where someone can only be all of this or all of that but not this and that. One way to catch yourself in the act is when your spoken or unspoken complaints are framed in absolutes like ‘you always do this’ or ‘ you never say that’.

The point is not to deny or minimize the harmful, destructive things going on in the relationship but rather to make room for the other side too, the side that still exists and always has although you’ve ceased to notice or appreciate it. If we’re to have any chance of improving our intimate relationships we’ve got to cultivate a more balanced view of what’s going on in them. And we’ve got to keep the fires of love, respect, and empathy burning. Otherwise what we’re sure to find is more gridlock. No one likes being pigeonholed, no one likes being forced to take on all the responsibility for problems in the relationship, and no one likes being painted as the villain of the story. We all rebel in ways small and big when the people around us try to force us to take on that mantel of perpetrator. And we should rebel because except for exceedingly rare cases these characterizations aren’t a product of fair, balanced judgment but of all or nothing thinking.