Cognitive distortions: overcoming labeling and mislabeling 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 overcoming should statements. 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.

What are labeling and mislabeling statements? You assign value to yourself or others based on one instance or experience. This is really an extreme form of #2 Overgeneralization. 

What’s an example of labeling and mislabeling?

Labeling is when you assign value to yourself based on an oftentimes erroneous thought: “I’m a bad mom (dad).”

Mislabeling is when you use highly emotional, loaded language: “I’m a fuck!ing idiot.”

What does labeling and mislabeling look like in your mom or dad life?

Your Pinterest Panera or Chick-fil-A copycat recipe didn’t turn out like the picture. Your kids tossed the food on the floor. So you react.

“I’m a loser.”

“I’m completely useless.”

“I’m an idiot.”

How can labeling and mislabeling be harmful? You think a thought (e.g. oftentimes an erroneous thought), and then emotionally react in a particular way by labeling or mislabeling yourself. You may believe you have no control over your own emotions and emotional reactions. But’s that’s not true! 

Am I labeling and mislabeling in my daily life? You may be if… you catch yourself using one characteristic of a person and applying it to a whole person…

  • “Because I failed a test, I’m a failure.” 
  • “Because she’s frequently late to drop her kids to school, that mom is irresponsible.” 
  • “If that dad on the playground responded in a brusque way, he’s a jerk.”

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, emotional reasoning, should statements, labeling and mislabeling, 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 labeling and mislabeling? Describe the behavior you notice not the person. That person is late to preschool drop-off. I failed the test. He spoke to me brusquely.

Photo by Frank K 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 labeling and mislabeling?

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