Discounting the Positive–Thinking Distortions

Discounting the positive it is a common thought pattern for addicts and codependents. It occurs in other mental

health conditions as well such as Anxiety Disorders and Depressive Disorders. It is also a common symptom of PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Discounting the positive has many negative effects.  For example, it leads to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, despair and depression. It can also keep eyes on edge, insecure, worried and full of dread. Needless to say, this thinking pattern can erode the quality of one’s life and impair one’s ability to optimally participate in many aspects of life.

A Screen and Filter For Life Experiences

Discounting the positive works in the following ways:

  • No matter what the situation, one looks for its negative meaning, elements, and effects.
  • Positive meaning, elements and effects are often ‘turned into’ negatives in one’s thinking.

For example, Tom gives a speech which is applauded throughout, and afterwards many audience members come up to congratulate him. Everyone thinks the event has been a major success. However, Tom is prone to discount the positive in any situation and he focuses on his embarrassment when the microphone temporarily failed, as well as the fact that someone whose opinion he values left without speaking to him.

Another example: Melissa receives a promotion she has worked hard for. She has filled the position on a temporary basis and everyone has been very impressed with her performance. However, her tendency to discount the positive causes her to immediately wonder if she really deserves the job and if she can do it. Her anxiety about these things preoccupy her throughout a celebration in her honor.

Undoing the Thought Distortion

Discounting the positive is also known as a perceptual bias. This simply means that you have trained yourself to look for negatives.  With conscious effort you can retrain your perceptions by:

  • Monitoring your thinking on a regular basis, looking for examples of discounting the positives of a situation.
  • Identifying the specific positives you are discounting.
  • Broadening your perception by identifying positives in situations.
  • Journaling about your perceptual bias by exploring the self-talk that occurs in your thinking.
  • Journaling to challenge a negative bias by writing about only the positive factors of a situation.
  • Practicing gratitude by reviewing a situation only to cite those things you feel gratitude for in the situation.
  • Practicing praise for yourself and others when you see a positive achievement.