Julie's Story

Married with one child with special needs, Julie worked as an accountant in 2013. Back then, her husband had just been retrenched, and was having trouble finding work. This caused her significant stress, to the point of suffering a panic attack at work. Her boss was supportive and granted her a month off work to rest. At home, she continued to worry about how her family could pay the bills and for their special child’s education.

After the month off, she returned to work but soon suffered a 2nd episode. This time, she took 6 months of no-pay leave. Staying at home proved to be difficult for her, and she was soon diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. She blamed herself for the struggles of her family, and her confidence continued to plummet. She eventually left her job and with the encouragement of her husband, decided to attend a course on special needs education, to better care for her son. Eventually, her husband started working as a part-time tennis coach and they downgraded from a condominium to a 4-room HDB flat.

When we met her in 2015, Julie was still working through her depression. At the time, she was planning a career switch to work with special needs children. After several unsuccessful applications, she was called up for an interview as an Allied Educator in a special needs school.

In the weeks leading up to her interview, we discussed steps to boost her confidence and prepared for her interview. On the day of her interview, she asks her best friend to go with her for support. On the MRT, doubts start to creep in and she confides in her best friend.

Her best friend knew all about her fears, and after listening to Julie, tells her that she isn’t good enough, and to prevent more disappointment, she should turn around and go back home. Even if she managed to secure the job by luck, she cannot handle the stress of working, and would almost certainly have another breakdown. Why should she cause more problems for her family, with her incompetence, as she had done those years ago? When she fails here, her husband would give up on her, and her child would lose respect for her.

After listening to her best friend, Julie hopped off the train and went back home.

The best friend that she talked to that morning was herself.

This is a story of how we often make thinking errors, hindering us from achieving our goals. How often have we blamed ourselves for the negative events in our lives? How often have we assumed the worst? Be mindful of the common thinking errors you make, and give yourself a chance to succeed.

5 Common Thinking Errors in our everyday lives

1) Overgeneralisation. Taking an isolated event as evidence that things are always like that. “I failed my driving test. I’m terrible at everything that requires hand-eye coordination.”
• Being specific. “I failed my driving test because I failed to notice a ‘stop’ sign.”
• Question your interpretation of the facts. “I failed my driving test but does not mean I’m terrible at everything that requires hand-eye coordination.”

2) Jumping to Conclusions. Assuming we know what someone else is thinking. “The driving instructor failed me because he thinks I am stupid.
• Understand that we cannot know with certainty what others are thinking.
• Rationalise this by reversing your roles. Would he know what you are thinking?

3) Personalisation. Taking the blame for something that was out of your control. “If only I was a good driver, the instructor wouldn’t be in a bad mood.”
• Consider all the possible causes. “It could be his boss stressing him out.”
• Consider if the problem is your responsibility. “Wait. Him being in a bad mood may not be my fault in the first place.”
• Is there even something to blame? “Bad moods fall on people without cause. Maybe he woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”

4) Catastrophising. Exaggerating and imagining the worst will happen. “Oh no. I forgot to greet the instructor. Now he’ll be in a bad mood and he will fail me, and then prevent me from learning to drive ever again. No one will ever take me seriously as long as I live.”
• Consider the process of how the final outcome will occur. Objectively analyse if each event necessarily leads to the next. “I didn’t greet the instructor. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be in a bad mood. Anyway, him being in a bad mood does not mean I will fail this test.”

5) Perfectionistic Thinking. Seeing things in absolutes. “I forgot to turn on my signal light at that junction…I’m a total failure at driving.”
• Nothing is 100% good or bad, so think of a possible outcome or situation where the result is somewhere in between. “I forgot to turn on my signal light at that junction…but at least I know that I should be using my signal, and that’s my only mistake. That makes me a decent driver.”

Written by Dr. Joel Yang