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Jumping to Conclusions

by Beverly Ward

July 3, 2023

From Science: This week we are looking at a fourth Cognitive Distortion, Jumping to Conclusions (can we call this one a frognative distortion?). Cognitive Distortions are unhelpful ways of thinking that are unrealistic (distorted) and may cause painful emotions and unhelpful behaviors. Left untreated, they can lead to mental health problems. There are two sub-categories under Jumping to conclusions, Fortune Telling and Mind Reading. With these distortions, we assume that we know things that we can’t know for certain. We jump to conclusions that may or may not have any truth to them at all. For example, a person may have a look of stress and tension on their face, and we might assume that we are the cause of it, “he is mad at me”. In reality, the person may simply be in pain, maybe he has a leg cramp. We all jump to conclusions, it is problematic when it becomes a dominate way of thinking and/or when it is causing painful emotions, unhelpful behaviors and/or interfering in our enjoyment of peaceful, healthy relationships.

Fortune Telling is predicting the future as if is a fact. The two most common fortune telling errors are "it is hopeless", and "I'm in danger something terrible is going to happen". An example of a hopelessness error is "I will never get better; this is how I have always been and how I always will be. My mother was like this, and I am just like her. My life cannot get better. I am just hopelessly stuck.". An example of a danger error is "What if I lose my job and can't find another one. What if I'm ruined professionally. I'm too old to find another job or to change careers. I'll never survive it."

Mind Reading is assuming that we know what another person is thinking and/or feeling. Some examples of mind reading are: "she thinks she is better than everyone", "he only cares about himself", "they want to hurt me”, “he is mad at me”.

A few Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques to help when we are Fortune Telling, or Mind Reading are the survey technique and examining the evidence. Surveying is used with Mind Reading and it is simply to ask a person questions that will help you understand them better and that will help you confirm or refute your assumption. Examining the evidence, is just that, looking at evidence that would either support and not support your assumption.

There a few other CBT techniques your therapist might use, including externalizing voices and the experimental technique. Dr David Burns describes having used them with his clients in the video below in the Lagniappe section.

From Scripture: Scripture is full of admonitions to guard and protect our hearts and minds from false messages and lies. Fortune Telling and Mind Reading happen when we are giving ourselves false messages. The more we steep our minds in God’s messages, the more easily we can catch a false message. Ann Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter) tells a story of her mother, Ruth Bell Graham, that makes an excellent point on this topic, it goes like this: Mrs. Graham was at a diplomat dinner and was seated next to a gentleman who was a governmental authority on controlling currency. She asked him how he could recognize and keep up with all of the variations in counterfeit currency. He replied, 'I could not possibly, I just stay in continual study of the original so that a counterfeit stands out readily'. Mrs. Graham, being a teacher and leader in God’s Word and His ways, saw the spiritual application of this tip. She encouraged that we should stay in continual study of God’s Word and His ways so that we can readily recognize a counterfeit thought or idea.

Consider 2 Corinthians 10:5 (AMP). “We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Action Plan: When you find yourself mind reading, try using the survey technique by considering whether and how you could ask questions of the person to verify what they are actually thinking. When you catch yourself fortune telling, examine the evidence. Make a line down the center of a sheet of paper, on one side list evidence that supports the thought, on the other side evidence against the thought. Also ask yourself what is the worst that could happen? How could I cope if it did happen? What is the best that could happen? What is the most likely thing to happen? After examining all of the evidence draw a conclusion in the form of a more balanced statement, for example “even though it is possible that X could happen, it is more likely that X will happen, and if the worst does happen, I could cope by X”

The Lagniappe:

A short video of a therapist using CBT to help a client with Mind Reading

* A personal interjection about the video below - and this is strictly my opinion offered for your consideration: Dr. Burns is an excellent CBT teacher and a leader in the field, but I did not like him referring to CBT as ‘the gospel’. While Dr. Burns' teachings on CBT are excellent and so helpful, he is wrong to apply the term gospel to anything other than the teachings of Christ. CBT is great and the help it offers is exciting, but nothing else even begins to approach the Greatness of the Gospel and of Christ. Always, always guard your heart and mind when you hear anyone speak a wrong message, no matter who they are or how well intentioned they may be.

*A video of Dr David Burns teaching about Jumping to Conclusions.


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