Today I need to get personal. Our journey through the common thinking errors (or biases in thinking/information processing) that form the cornerstone of cognitive-behavioral therapy has brought us to Personalisation. When this bias is activated, the person assumes unrealistic and irrational responsibility for events that are beyond their control. It is what David Burns (a psychologist who put forward a taxonomy of thinking errors, based on the work of Aaron Beck) has called “the mother of guilt”. We all know how guilt can have a profound effect on our mood and how we view ourselves. It is a common theme in major depression.
Imagine you have arranged with a group of friends to go to the cinema – or to the movies, for my friends across the pond. Everyone is looking forward to this little outing. You get to your seats, laden with tubs of popcorn, and settle down to enjoy the film. But oh – quelle disappointment! The film did not live up to the hype. You feel terrible. How could I have subjected my friends to this? They will never speak to me again. It is all my fault!
Now, hang on a minute. How is it all your fault? Did you play a part in the making of the film? Perhaps you were the director? Or one of the actors? Or did you write the screenplay? No, of course not. You are not responsible for the film being a disappointment (unless you answered “yes” to any of my questions, in which case thank you dear celebrity for being here, and I’m sure your next venture will be much better).
But you were responsible for arranging the outing. Did you force your friends to come out? I hope not. You share a collective responsibility. And you had the pleasure of each other’s company, it is a good story to tell, and you had the popcorn!
A good way to help people develop a more realistic appraisal of their responsibility is to get them to draw a responsibility pie-chart. This involves listing all of the people or factors that contributed to something bad happening, and apportioning a percentage of blame to each of them. Begin with the factors that contributed most to the event, and end with the person themselves. Hopefully, there will only be a very small percentage of blame left, or maybe none at all.
Commentary by Professor Eugene Malaberry, B.Sc., M.Phil., Ph.3 [Chair of Cynical Psychology, University of Assidity]
I would like to congratulate my learned friend Dr Lee for his lucid account of personalisation. I thought this would be a good opportunity to promote the Cynical Gift Shop I run in the main foyer of the university. Here you will be able to purchase a wide range of personalised gifts, such as t-shirts, key-rings, mugs, coasters and posters. Hope to see you there!