I sat tapping my fingers on the stained coffee table in the break room when my phone buzzed, “ Can I swing by after work? We need to talk.” The pit of my stomach dropped like a bowling ball being thrown from curled fingertips down a polished alley. I had a slight worry in my mind, later to be confirmed by my boyfriend that he had cheated on me. Now, this was significant to me not just because I had been cheated on and dumped, but because this was the third time in a row this had happened in my seemingly happy relationship. The tables turned on me, I no longer felt like the bowling ball but rather the pins watching helplessly before being knocked down one after another.
As a disclaimer, you can find many articles online about why people cheat, or how to spot a cheater, or whether or not to go back to said person. I have spent many nights and many days doing my research and finding little to no answer to bring me peace of mind. It’s not good to beg someone for answers that they may not know themselves, because among cheaters there is usually one common theme: there is something inside them unfulfilled and it isn’t your fault that they cheated. Despite knowing that, being cheated on hurts; for the last three years of my life I have been suffering from low self-esteem and terrible emotional problems that haven’t been resolved by Youtube videos but rather a licensed therapist. What I am about to tell you is how I am growing my self esteem, and more importantly how I am moving on from the aftermath of infidelity.
When I’m having a bad day, my brain goes on a loop of all the failures I’ve had in my life. I look in the mirror and discredit the nice words I’ve received and instead I focus on the notion that I am not enough because of my relationship failures. Obviously I’m ugly if he left me.
More currently, out in the dating world I feel claustrophobic and trapped. When I have a new partner I don’t allow them to get close to me and see who I am, yet I fall in love with every aspect of them. I’m terrified of vulnerability and emotional connections because of the fear of being hurt. Then, when I eventually face the foreboding rejection I crash and fall back into the same negative thinking patterns.
I am setting myself up for failure, time after time, but why?
Where Did I Go Wrong?
Let’s reverse the roles here. Imagine your friend has just been cheated on and they are distraught, what would you say to them? When I was cheated on the first thing I thought to myself was, you weren’t enough for him. I would never say this to a friend going through a similar situation so why would I say it to myself?
In CBT we call this distorted thinking, these are ways our mind convinces us of things that are not true. With cognitive distortions we tell ourselves things that sound true or rational, but the only purpose they serve is to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.
Here are a few examples.
Jumping to Conclusions/ Fortune Telling
Jumping to conclusions has negatively affected my most current relationships with others and my own self worth. He saw my message and didn’t reply, he must not like me anymore. Instead of looking at the bigger picture, this distortion implements my personal fears on a situation that probably isn’t even about me. Instead of jumping to the worst conclusion right away, if I took a step back and analyzed the situation I would probably agree that my s/o has gotten wrapped up in something and is busy!
Fortune telling goes along the same lines, predicting the outcome of a situation without hard evidence. I used this example when explaining that I am scared to get close to people because I “predict” that they will leave “ just like everyone else”. In our minds, fortune telling seems rational and we feel like we are trying to protect ourselves, but in the long run we are only isolated further.
Mental Filters and Discounting the Positive
This is a Core Belief model, it is used to explain mental filters. In my example, my core belief is that I am unlovable, my reasoning for this is because I’ve been cheated on. As you can see, the negative reinforcements are the one that enter and feed the core belief. On the left hand side, you can see the positive reinforcements that are discarded, these are experiences that counter the negative core belief.
Mental filters filter out all positive aspects of an experience and only focus on the negatives which can reinforce damaging core beliefs. Mental filters can lead to higher levels of depression, anxiety and lower self esteem.
If you are a person who is overwhelmed by the negative things in your life, I encourage you to make your own core belief model and see how many mental filters are present!
“ I am always the last choice,” using extreme language generalizes your experiences and makes you believe your negative core beliefs are true. For instance, when I face rejection I often think, “ things never work out for me.” This kind of thinking temporarily discourages me and makes me feel like the world is against me, which is simply not true. Taking the time to think about your word choices can turn a distressed state into one of reflection.
When reading through this you will probably roll your eyes, yeah right it’s going to take a lot more than that to fix my self esteem. The reason you think like this is because your mind has trained you to believe your self-destructive thought processes are the truth.
In my personal experience, taking a look at cognitive distortions has helped me get over my self esteem issues that stemmed from my past relationships. I have realised I cannot change some of the awful things that have happened but I can change the way I think about myself.
I have only shown three out of the ten cognitive distortions, if you’re interested in learning more there are plenty of CBT resources online.
Nadia Zywina is a 17 y/o Canadian author who avidly advocates for mental health and body positivity. She has been in and out of therapy and enjoys sharing what she has learned with others, while working toward a healthy, productive life. Along with her two cats and wonderful group of friends she is excited to continue her studies at University this fall.
Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nadia.zzz/?hl=en