How your distorted thoughts could be affecting your relationships—Part III

By Maggie Dulcio, LMHC, CAP

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This is the conclusion of our three part series on how our distorted thoughts could be affecting our relationships. In this post I will address the last four distorted thinking patterns. In the last post, I addressed filtering, polarized thinking, overgeneralization, and mind reading. Finally, in this entry I will focus on catastrophizing, magnifying, personalization, and the shoulds.

  • Catastrophizing We expect, even visualize disaster. We notice or hear about a problem and start asking “what if”? What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to me?

Catastrophizing Cathy has always been an early bird. She has her morning routine in place.  She gives herself two hours in the morning.  She wakes and set up time to meditate before she hits the shower, have her breakfast and get ready for work. One morning Catastrophizing Cathy forgot to set her alarm and woke up one hour later than usual. All she could visualize was that this was going to be a terrible day, she thinks to herself that she is going to have to rush out the house.  She thinks “what if I get a speeding ticket or if I get into a car accident?” Catastrophizing Cathy left the house and didn’t get a chance to do her meditation.  As she is going out the door, she says to herself “this day is going to be disaster”. Catastrophizing Cathy left the house feeling very anxious, worried that something terrible is going to happen. She is very irritable and very short with her coworkers when gets to work even though she got there on time and nothing terrible happened on the way to work.

This is the person that’s always expecting something bad to happen and they allow that thought to control their behavior or their interaction with others.

  • Magnifying         We exaggerate the degree or intensity of a problem. We turn up the volume on anything bad making it loud and large and overwhelming.

Magnifying Mark has been working on this project at work with a couple of his co-workers for the last week or so. Magnifying Mark has been on edge about having to work with two of his co-workers on this project. Magnifying Mark likes to work alone so that he feels he has control over the situation.  Today is the last day to complete the project and they are adding the final touches. One of his coworkers was supposed to bring a bleu folder for the report that they are presenting.  The co-worker indicated that he could not find a bleu folder and brought a black one instead. Magnifying Mark becomes outraged and feel that his co-worker is trying to sabotage his work.

This is the person who takes the smallest issue and turn it into this big problem that cannot be resolved.

  • Personalization We assume that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to us. We also compare ourselves to others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking, and so on.

Personalization Paul has few friends, he’s more of a loner. It has always been a challenge for Paul to keep friends.  He’s main issue has been with thinking people are judging him.  Last year, Personalization had a major misunderstanding with some of the guys at work.  He thinks those guys are immature, they like to pray pranks and have little respect for others.   In the last incident, Paul had been at a work event with those guys at work.  He noticed his coworkers were snickering and laughing. They were facing his direction. Personalization Paul thought they were laughing at the way he was dressed.  He decided to finally tell those guys how he feels about them. It turns out that those guys were not paying attention to Personalization Paul but was laughing at a video from one of their phone.

This is the person who makes everything about them.  At times, they may not even be able to show empathy because they are so consumed by their own feelings and are not able to understand how someone else may be feeling about a situation.

  • Shoulds We have a list of ironclad rules about how we and other people should act. People who break the rules anger us, and we feel guilty when we violate those rules.

Shoulds Shane identifies as being from the “old school”. He believes as a man he should be the provider working and that his woman should be at home taking care of him, the house and the kids. Shane has been married for five years and three children with Diane. The family had fallen on some hard times. Diane used to be a stay-at-home mom.  Against Shane’s wishes she went out and found a part-time job to help support the family. On a few occasions Shane has come home and dinner has not been prepared. Shane believe that this has been Diane’s lack of familial responsibility and that she is neglecting her role as a wife and mother. This has been the source of many arguments in the last few months.

This is the person that as a set of beliefs that even if they have not worked for them, they continue to hold on to them and will not bend time despite the circumstances.

Our thoughts can twist the facts to have us believe those distorted thoughts are real.  This can affect the way we treat others or the way we feel about ourselves.  At times we need to challenge our thinking and replace them with reality-base thinking.  If we don’t control our thoughts, they will control us!

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How your distorted thoughts could be affecting your relationships—Part II

thoughts Dynamic Duo

By Maggie Dulcio, LMHC, CAP

In my last post I introduced the impact of our distorted thinking on our relationships. So this time around, I would like to horn in on the eight limited thinking patterns previously presented. I will introduce four of the eight in this post and will continue with the other four next time.  Let me start with a short story. I had a client once who had been studying and working hard to pass the state teaching certification exam. She took the test several times and could not pass it.  Her co-workers were very well aware of her situation and felt terrible for her.  She finally took the test and passed it after her fifth attempt.  That day when she took the exam, she got the results immediately. She was so elated she called one of her colleagues, Cindy whom she was closest to and shared the good news.  The test was given on a Saturday and during the weekend, while Cindy was at the gym she saw another co-worker, Laura.  In her excitement, Cindy shared the news with Laura.  When my client got to her job on Monday, Laura came to her and congratulated her on the passing of the exam.  My client was livid that her colleague had informed others that she had passed the exam.  She felt that she, the client should have been the one tell anyone and that her colleague, Cindy, should have known not to tell others. My client went to Cindy, in a not so pleasant way, and expressed how she felt about what the situation.  Cindy was completely stunned by my client’s reaction.  I think this is a great example of the shoulds distorted thinking.

Let me introduce you to the eight characters of our distorted thoughts

1 Filtering           We focus on the negative details while ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation.

Filtering Fiona has a seven-year-old son. He is constantly getting into trouble, at school his grades are poor because he is not putting any effort in completing his work and his teacher is constantly requesting for a parent-teacher conference. Filtering Fiona is asked to come to the school for a meeting with the teacher. When she gets there, the teacher tells Filtering Fiona that she is continuing to have problems with her son.  The teacher recommends that Filtering Fiona get some tutoring to help the seven-year-old with schoolwork because he seems to be struggling with some of the materials. The teacher also informed Filtering Fiona the son entered an art contest at school and he won first place and will be moving on to the regional competitions.   The teacher indicates that the son is very artistic and may need to find some ways of channeling his talent and this may possibly be way to motivate her son.  During the entire meeting all that Filtering Fiona could think about is that she is sitting in another parent-teacher conference because her son is not doing well in school and “why can’t my son be like the other children"?

Have you ever met anyone who only focuses on the negative? Can you imagine having to constantly deal with that person? They are unable to see the brighter side of things.  They complain about everything and do not believe things can ever get better. This can really impact how that person interacts with others.              

2 Polarized Thinking       Things are black or white, good or bad. We have to be perfect or we are a failure. There is no middle ground, no room for mistakes.

Polarized Thinking Pete, grew up being told that in order to be successful you need a college degree.  He truly believes “it is your degree that is going to land that dream job” as he was told growing up. Polarized Thinking Pete had to drop out of school his second year of college before he could earn his Associate Degree because his parents had an accident and he had to help out the family.  His goal is to go back to school one day and complete his degree.  He is currently having some issues in his current relationship. Polarized Thinking Pete is considering ending his relationship with Sue. They have been together for two years. Polarized Thinking Pete thinks that Sue should go to school to complete her bachelor’s degree. Sue has been at her job for the last four years and likes her job.  She’s expecting to get a promotion and would like to eventually move up the ladder and manage her department. Sue believes she can do this without a college degree. Polarized thinking Pete believes that in order for Sue to succeed she would need to get her Bachelor’s degree.  This has caused a lot of strife in the relationship. Polarized Thinking Pete believes that education equates to success and that the only way to ensure success is to have a degree. Sue is a hard worker and she loves her job and believes her hard work is going to ensure her success.  Other than this issue, the couple is quite compatible and they truly enjoy spending time with each other.  However, Polarized Thinking Pete does not believe that the relationship can work if Sue is unwilling to go back to school and earn her degree.

With this pattern of thinking there is no middle ground. When dealing with someone with that thinking pattern it’s hard to find a compromise.  The person only sees things as either or with no gray area.  

3 Overgeneralization     We reach a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. We exaggerate the frequency of problems and use negative global labels.

Overgeneralization Opal met Michael about a month ago and they seem to hit it off right from the start. They have been talking on the phone nightly. They’ve discovered that they have many things in common and similar interests. After talking for about a month, Opal finally summed up the courage to ask Michael on a date and Michael gladly accepted.  They decided on dinner and a movies for their first date. Shortly after they arranged the date, Michael’s work got very busy and he had to work late so, he was not able to talk on the phone with Opal like they had been doing.  Unfortunately, the night before their date Michael got a call from his parents asking him to come home to help them deal with his younger sister.  Unfortunately, Michael had to call and cancel the date.  Overgeneralization Opal does not take the news well.  She thinks that Michael was turned off that she was the one who asked him on a date and got cold feet so he decided to cancel the date.  Overgeneralization Opal starts thinking about previous guys in her life who blew her off and believes this is happening to her once again.  When Michael gets back in town and calls Overgeneralization Opal, she gives him the cold shoulder.

This is the person who tends to use superlatives when dealing with his/her situations.  They will judge a situation based on unfounded beliefs.

4 Mind Reading                 Without their saying so, we know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we have certain knowledge of how people think and feel about us.

Mind Reading Mindy is taking a Sociology class at the local college. She speaks openly about her faith and on the first day of the class she had a heated debate about her religious views with the professor.  She now believes that her professor does not like her due to her views. The professor has assigned a group project and selected the individuals in each group. Mind Reading Mindy believes that the professor has put her in a group with people she does not get along with and that they are not as motivated as she is and the professor did that because he does not like her. Mind Reading Mindy also believes that she has been graded unfairly on a few of the assignments for the same reason. She believes that this all started from the beginning of the semester when she expressed her religious beliefs in class. Interestingly Mind Reading Mindy does not know that the professor is of the same faith as she is, he no ill feelings towards her and actually enjoys having Mind Reading Mindy in his class.

This can be a challenge because as humans, we want to get a read on people as this can be useful in protecting ourselves from harm.  This becomes a problem when we automatically believe that our distorted thoughts are accurate without clear evidence.

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How Your Distorted Thoughts Could be Affecting Your Relationships-Part I

By Maggie Dulcio, LMHC, CAP

Do you know that a recent study done by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) found that the number reason for divorce in the United States was communication problems?  I once worked with a couple who had some trust issues in their relationship, however they both agreed that communication was a major problem in the relationship.  A great example of a communication breakdown was given during one of my sessions with this couple.  The girlfriend said once she called  the boyfriend to tell him she was going to one of her aunt’s house to visit and the boyfriend commented that girlfriend should careful not to become like the aunt.  According to the couple, the aunt unemployed and had been unproductive most of her life.  The girlfriend interpreted the boyfriend comment as “I don’t want you going to your aunt’s house”.  When this incident was brought up in the session, the boyfriend stated, “I never told you that I didn’t want you to go to your aunt’s house”.   Clearly, this couple needs to work on their communication skills. 

Communication is reliant on on how people cope with things.  There are four major coping styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.  We’ll delve into the coping styles in future blogs.  Communication does not only involve coping styles, listening skills also play a big part.  Good listening requires four elements.

  1. The message has to be heard.  Our brain recognizes sound as it enters the ear.  However, we select what we listen to and we pay attention to non-verbal cues such as body language and tone of voice.
  2. The message must be interpreted.  This is where we often run into problems.  Both the listener and the speaker have filters.  Because of this, we may misinterpret the message due to our filters.  Some common filter or some things that may distort our thinking:
    1. Memories
    2. Feelings
    3. Language/vocabulary
    4. Past experiences
    5. Biases
  3. It is very important to evaluate the message.  You can do that by asking questions for clarification.  You want to insure you have all the key information and that you are not jumping into conclusion.
  4. Lastly, you want to respond to the message.  Yes! Responding to the message is part of listening.  A response is critical to clear communication

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Remember I mentioned that interpretation is often where the breakdown in communication occurs.  Our thoughts and feelings will affect how we interpret the message, however, those thoughts and feeling can be distorted.  Let’s take a look at some common distorted thinking.

  1. Filtering.             You focus on the negative details while ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation.
  2. Polarized Thinking.         Things are black or white, good or bad.  You have to be perfect or you’re a failure.  There’s no middle ground, no room for mistakes.
  3. Overgeneralization.  You reach a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence.  You exaggerate the frequency of problems and use negative global labels.
  4. Mind Reading.  Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you have certain knowledge of how people think and feel about you.
  5. Catastrophizing.              You expect, even visualize disaster.  You notice or hear about a problem and start asking, “what if?” What if tragedy strikes?  What if it happens to you?
  6. Magnifying.      You exaggerate the degree or intensity of a problem.  You turn up the volume on anything bad, making it loud, large, and overwhelming.
  7. Personalization.              You assume that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you.  You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking, and so on.
  8. Shoulds.              You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you, and you feel guilty when you violate the rules.

When we have these distorted viewpoints, they affect how we interact with others.  I will present some examples and discuss how these distorted thoughts affect our relationship in the next entry.

My Secret to a Lasting Marriage

By Maggie Dulcio, LMHC, CAP

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You are probably reading this because the title may have caught your attention or you may be somewhat curious to find out my secret to a lasting marriage.  Nonetheless, let me tell you a short story that will help you understand my secret much clearer.  My secret to a lasting marriage, as you will discover is very simple.

Recently my cousin came to visit us for about a week.  I’ve always enjoyed welcoming guests to our home especially family and old friends that I have not seen in a while.  I had not seen my cousin for over a year and the time we spent together while she visited was just wonderful.  My dear cousin suffers from anxiety.  She has anxiety about driving in the car and her anxiety significantly increases especially when riding on the highway.  My loving cousin does not drive, her husband and children does the driving for her.  The anxiety developed years ago after she witnessed a car running over her husband.  Fortunately, her husband survived that horrific accident but my cousin continues to struggle with the memory of the event, which has led to her anxiety.  She tries desperately to overcome her anxiety, but she is not quite there yet. 

My cousin was born in Haiti and she grew up near the water.  She finds peace and solace near the water however, she does not get to go to the beach very often.  While visiting, she saw a news piece on the TV and it brought some of her childhood memories, her early memories about growing up by the water.  The news story featured one of the local beaches and I could clearly see the excitement in her face as she watched that story.  After seeing her excitement, being the good cousin that I am(wink, wink), I offered to take her to the beach that was featured in the news.  Surprisingly, my cousin agreed to go.  I knew this was going to be a challenge because in order to get to the beach, we were going to have to drive on the highway.  The next day, my sweet cousin got in the vehicle, sat in the back of the car and closed her eyes for the duration of the one hour drive to the beach.  Despite my various attempts at encouraging her to open her eyes by telling her about the different sites as we were passing them, her eyes remained shut.  My attempts were futile.

As I thought more about my cousin’s behavior from the drive to the beach, I considered the similarity between her actions and my attitude regarding my marriage.  My cousin, despite her fear of riding on the highway, got in my car, sat in the rear  seat, closed her eyes and surrendered completely to my care; trusting that I was going to get her to the beach. download trust

This so much mirror my stance on my marriage.  Hear me out for a moment.  Let me do what I can to explain what I’m trying to get across.  In early July, I celebrated 18 years of marriage to my husband.  People will often ask my husband and me the same questions.  “You guys always look so happy, how do you do it?  What is your secret?”  I’m very fortunate and very pleased that marriage have endured some terrible storms.  Believe me; I can’t take all the credit for this.  The success of my marriage is beyond my level of comprehension, my effort and/or strength. 

OK I know I need to do some more explaining.

I do believe in a higher power, God and I’ve learned that when you surrender completely to the higher power, God has your best interest at heart and He has complete control of the universe.  What that means is that God is controlling and orchestrating every situation and every aspect of your life to your benefit if you allow Him.  For the sake of time, I will say this, the higher power has been able to work in me and my marriage and has affected my thoughts and reaction to things.  I sometimes respond to things in ways that are outside my natural reaction and ways of doing things.  What I’ve decided to do is to sit back in the back of the “car” with my eyes closed despite my anxiety and desire to do things my way, trusting that my higher power will get me to my final destination safely.  I’m going to be honest with you.  I said the secret is simple but I never said it was easy.  Just like life, my secret to a lasting marriage is simple but not easy.

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People may look at my marriage and think it’s a perfect marriage.  Those close to me who have seen me through some of the storms know the real story.  My marriage has had some up and downs just like any other marriage.  Moreover, we will continue to go through other storms but I’m relying on my higher power to help me through them.  Nevertheless, I’ve been blessed with 18 years of marriage and six children.  My own effort had little to do with the success of my marriage.  It has been taking the back seat, closing my eyes and letting God despite my desire to take control to get in the driver seat.  Hence, I can now say, to the next 18 years!

A New Vision

By Maggie Dulcio, LMHC, CAP

It’s been a few weeks since my last post because I was traveling out of the country.  I have also decided to post my articles twice per month instead of weekly.  It has been a very challenging task writing the weekly articles with the various responsibilities already on my plate.  So I went on a vacation with my family.  A well overdue time away.  We went to the beautiful island of Haiti and stayed at an all inclusive resort, the Royal Decameron.  We had an absolute wonderful time!  The food was amazing, entertainment outstanding and amenities superb!  I could not have ask for a more perfect vacation!

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I also had the opportunity to visit a few missions while in Haiti.  I went to see the Future of Haiti Orphanage (FOHO).  My heart sank when I saw those beautiful children.  They were so loving and sweet despite their lacks.  Some of them had no shoes on their feet and torn clothing but that did not stop them from smiling and giving a warm embrace.  They were such happy children! I also visited some children who were attending Vacation Bible School, a mission from Brandon, FL was leading the program.  It was such a joy seeing those children so happy and being fed both natural and spiritual food. 


After my trip to Haiti, I’ve refocused my perspective and have decided to initiate some new programs under my non-profit organization, Voice of Distress Relieved, Inc.  In the United States, we are blessed with so much that we often take them for granted.  We turn on the faucet without giving any thought that many places around the world people have to travel very long distance to get water.  We turn on the switch in our homes and know that our lights will turn on.  In Haiti, I saw so many people who were desperately making lemonade out of lemons.  The people are very enterprising, I met a few guys who were using discarded metals and rubber to make various art crafts to sell to tourists.  I saw hard working women waking up at wee hours in the morning, filling their baskets, placing it over their head, walking the streets, selling various items to help support their family.  They often do that for many years often time with little to show for it.  Unfortunately, they don’t have small business loans to help grow their businesses or investors looking to invest in the next big thing. Those entrepreneurs don’t have the opportunity to seek loans from The Small Business Administration, get a loan from a local bank or find Angel investors.  It is not that they are not hard working people and want to rely on others for financial support.  Sadly, it’s the lack of opportunity for individuals and small business owners have little to no chance to thrive that keeps these people in a state of deprivation.

In passing, pastor Ken who was leading the mission group from Brandon informed me that he was considering bringing some women from his mission to come to Haiti to teach the women how to sew.  As he talked about his project, I reminisced about growing up in Haiti and how much I enjoyed going to the seamstress to be sized for a new dress.  After the meeting with Pastor Ken and hearing about his plan to teach the women how to sew, I thought about how great it would be if those women who learned how to sew could make clothes for those orphan children I saw at the orphanage.  It would be so nice if we could get sewing machines and fabric donated.  We will be meeting with this group from Brandon to discuss future projects and see how we can collaborate on future projects.

There will be upcoming information about investing in the people of Haiti and small businesses in Haiti.  Stay tuned!  For additional information about my non-profit organization, please visit:

What is your parenting style?

By Maggie Dulcio, LMHC, CAP

Recently, as I conducted a parenting class, we were discussing Erikson’s psychosocial developmental stages.  I mentioned from the age of three to six years old, youngsters experience the initiative vs. guilt crisis.  During this stage, children need to have the opportunity for exploration.  During this stage they begin to have the capability to devise actions and projects and a confidence and belief that it is okay to do so.  Children are exploring and experimenting in pursuit of learning, development and confidence.  As a parent, you want to allow children the freedom of adventure and discovery during this stage.  During the discussion, one of the parents mentioned that he does not recall going through that stage as a child.  Amusingly, this parent said he remembered as a child having strict rules and boundaries that were not to be crossed.  He could not play in the house, if he was told to sit in the front porch, he knows he couldn’t budge until he was told to do so. His comments prompted the conversation about parenting styles.

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There are four major styles of parenting, authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved.  The authoritative style is characterized by parents who are warm but firm.  The parents have high demands but permit expression from the child. Parents who use that style engage in discussions and debates with their child about the rules but ultimately, the parents make the final decision.  With the authoritarian style, parents display little warmth and are highly controlling.  They are strict disciplinarians and insist that children follow parental directions.  Authoritarian parents do not engage in discussions and debates about the rules with their children.  Next is the permissive parent.  They are very nurturing and warm and are undemanding.  They are indulgent and passive in their parenting.  They do not expect compliance from their children.  Lastly, the uninvolved parents are not warm and are disengaged with their children.  They can be so uninvolved to the point of being neglectful.  They use the hands-off approach and do not care whether the child is compliant.  Those are the four major categories of parenting but the research have shown that most parents use a combination of parenting styles.

Research has indicated that the authoritative style is the most effective parenting style.  According to the research, children with authoritative parents tend to be independent, they challenge rules appropriately and behaves when parents are not present.  On the other hand, authoritarian parents tend to have children that are withdrawn and anxious, they can misbehave behind parents’ back. Children with permissive parents are shown to be immature and have little self-control.  Uninvolved parents have children that are angry, anxious and rebellious.  With uninvolved parent, academically, children tend to poor-achievers.  The authoritative styles seems to have the best outcomes for children.

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We can agree that parents can affect children’s development.  There is something else to be noted from the research; it’s that children’s behavior can affect parenting styles as well.  Additionally, cultural factors also play a role in parenting styles and child outcome.  In conclusion, it’s demonstrated that the authoritative style has the best child outcome but it’s important to keep in mind other social factors, culture and the child’s temperament.

Maggie Dulcio

Oasis Counseling, LLC 813-685-6700

About Oasis Counseling

Oasis Counseling- The mission of Oasis Counseling is to enrich and empower the individuals and families that we serve and to inspire people to make positive decisions which will help them become productive citizens. We work with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD and more. We also deal with domestic violence, substance abuse and anger issues. We help people manage their life and help guide them to make better life choices.

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