Cognitive distortions: overcoming magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization for moms and dads

Thank you for joining Stay-in-Bed Mom Blog (SIBMB) for an ongoing positive self-talk series. Self-love starts with positive self-talk. We’ll continue to discuss cognitive distortions, or unhelpful thinking styles, through the lens of parenthood. Last time we discussed jumping to conclusions – mind reading and fortune telling. A little cognitive distortion here, a little exaggeration there isn’t going to affect your mental state in the short term. However, if your negative thinking becomes chronic, then your mental health will undoubtedly suffer.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

What’s magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization? Also known as “the Binocular Trick”, you either exaggerate, e.g. magnify or catastrophize, the importance or meaning of things or minimize them.

The importance of insignificant events, or a mistake, is suddenly exaggerated. Or the importance of something significant – like an achievement – is lessened.

What’s an example of magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization? At your daughter’s 24 month checkup, your pediatrician firmly admonishes you to wean your daughter off the bottle. You magnify the importance of the “mistake” and assume your daughter is a poor eater and not getting adequate nutrition because you enabled the bottle habit. Or at this same appointment, your pediatrician says your daughter is “thriving”, but you minimize your provider’s praise and continue to believe your daughter has made unsatisfactory weight gains because she’s been in a lower percentile on her growth chart.

Furthermore, catastrophizers, hear a problem and use what if questions to imagine the worst case scenario.

You left a bottle in your daughter’s crib one time (okay, maybe a couple times), so she’s definitely going to get tooth decay! 

What does magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization look like in your mom or dad life? Your problems are blown out of proportion, while the positive aspects of your mom/dad life are ignored.

How can magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization be harmful? These negative thinking patterns, known as cognitive distortions, can worsen your symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Am I using magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization in my daily life? You may be if… you catch yourself using words or phrases like…

  • “I ruined the speech because of the few slip-ups I made.” (Even though, many people gave me compliments.)
  • ” I got in a fender bender outside a grocery store. Even though, no one was hurt, I refuse to go to the store again.” (I have panic disorder with agoraphobia.)

Do…use the 3 Cs!

  1. Categorize the negative, self defeating thought. Identify the unwanted thought or thinking pattern (e.g. all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, disqualifying the positive, jumping to conclusions – mind reading and fortune telling, magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization, etc.). Write it in a thought journal.
  2. Challenge the thought. Look at what you wrote down. Review your thought journal and look for signs of disqualifying the positive. Reframe the undesired thought. Ask yourself how someone else would view your thought. Is this really true?
  3. Change the thought. Replace your thought with a positive or an optimistically realistic one. Believe you can create a different outcome in the future. A single negative event doesn’t hold true forever.

What can I do to overcome magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization?

1. Write it down. 

2. Identify the distressing event. 

3. Identify your negative emotions.

4. Identify the negative thoughts tied to your emotions.

5. Identify distortions and substitute the truth.

6. Take action. 

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on


A Final Thought – From the Pillow

I’m not good enough. Scratch that thought! I AM mom (or dad) enough. 

So keep talking back to your brain.

What strategies have worked for you for overcoming magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization?

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