There are many incidences that can cause you to think: "am I a bad person?" For example:
- You may think "am I a bad person?" if you unintentionally hurt someone;
- You may think "am I a bad person?" if you do something that falls below your moral standards or code of ethics;
- You may think "am I a bad person?" if you feel responsible for something bad that happened (even if there were many other factors that contributed to this outcome).
However, what you may not know is that it's extremely common for this question to be fuelled by one or more cognitive distortions.
What Are Cognitive Distortions, And How Can They Cause You To Think "Am I A Bad Person?" (When You Are Not)
Cognitive distortions are distorted thinking patterns that are grounded in some form of bias, and which commonly result in you viewing yourself and/or the world much more critically, judgementally and negatively than you otherwise would1. And, when you're having the thought "am I a bad person?":
- The are five cognitive distortions in particular that this thought is often grounded in;
- If you're able to identify the thought “am I a bad person?” as being a cognitive distortion, then you're much less likely to continue thinking and thinking it, and as a result, you're much less likely to (falsely) conclude that you are a bad person.
With that being said, let's now talk about the five cognitive distortions that the thought "am I a bad person?" is commonly grounded in.
"Am I A Bad Person?" Cognitive Distortion #1: Catastrophisation
Catastrophisation is when you blow something out of proportion, and in this context, think that you are (or may be) a much worse person than you really are. For example:
- Thinking "am I a bad person?" because you forgot to reply to a friend's message;
- Thinking "am I a bad person?" because you didn't hold the door open for someone;
- Thinking "am I a bad person?" because you had a particularly busy week at work, and therefore weren't able to spend as much time with your family as you would have liked.
"Am I A Bad Person?" Cognitive Distortion #2: Filter Thinking
Filter thinking is where you filter out all of the “good” or the “positive” in a situation, and only focus on the “bad” or the “negative”. And, when it comes to thinking "am I a bad person?", this can take the form of, for example:
- Filtering out all of the times you've treated people with kindness and respect, and thinking "am I a bad person?" because you snapped at someone when you were stressed out;
- Filtering out all of the times you've been there for friends and loved ones, and thinking "am I a bad person?" because on one particular weekend, you had something else on that you prioritised;
- Filtering out all of the times you've been a great team player at work, and thinking "am I a bad person?" because on one occasion, you didn't help a coworker with their project.
"Am I A Bad Person?" Cognitive Distortion #3: Labelling
This cognitive distortion is particularly relevant during the times when your answer is "yes" to the thought "am I a bad person?" - or in other words, when you're telling yourself "I am a bad person". However, by applying the label "bad person" to yourself, you are oversimplifying your character, and reducing your entire identity to a single label. And, in doing so, you are also overlooking so many beautiful parts of yourself that deserve to be acknowledged and included in your identity. For example, that you try your best to be:
- A good friend, etcetera.
"Am I A Bad Person?" Cognitive Distortion #4: Emotional Reasoning
Sometimes your emotions can cloud and distort your reality, and cause you to view yourself in a much more negative light than you deserve to view yourself. Consequently, the feelings of guilt, shame, or disappointment you may have towards yourself in a given situation may cause you to judge yourself excessively harshly. For example:
- Thinking "am I a bad person?" in response to feeling ashamed of telling a joke that unintentionally hurt your best friend's feelings;
- Thinking "am I a bad person?" in response to feeling disappointed in yourself for not defending somebody who was being insulted in a group setting;
- Thinking "am I a bad person?" in response to feeling guilty for not recycling.
"Am I A Bad Person?" Cognitive Distortion #5: Personalisation
“Personalisation” is where you take personal responsibility for things that aren’t fully in your control, that have nothing to do with you, and/or that aren’t your fault. For example:
- Your partner is upset about a problem at work, and you think "am I a bad person?" in response to not being able to cheer them up or solve their problem;
- Your friend feels bad because the party they hosted fell flat, and you think "am I a bad person?" because you feel it was your responsibility to make it more lively and eventful.
Anytime you find yourself thinking "am I a bad person?" - and particularly if you find yourself thinking "I am a bad person" - then we really encourage you to try to identify any cognitive distortions that this thought could be grounded in - which like we said, can help prevent you from ruminating on this thought and believing it to be true.
Additionally, when you identify that one or more cognitive distortions are causing you to think "am I a bad person" or "I am a bad person", then you may find it helpful to gently tell yourself one or more reminders / positive affirmations. For example:
- "I am worthy of love and forgiveness, just like everyone else"
- "I give myself grace and compassion"
- "I am not defined by my worst moments."
- "I choose to acknowledge the good I do"
- "While I will always try my hardest to be the best person I can be, I accept that I'm an imperfect human, and that's OK"
We really hope you've found this blog post helpful.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.
P.S. If you'd like to learn a lot more cognitive behavioural therapy strategies to help you cope with and overcome negative thoughts like "am I a bad person?", then we've created a Bootcamp to help you do just that!
Access to this Bootcamp and lots of others are included as part of our Depression Bootcamps Membership Platform - which you can learn more about by clicking the button below.