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Section 5
Cognitive Distortions that affect Self-Esteem Building

Question 5 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed responding to the critic.  I find that ineffective response styles manifest in three different ways.  These are passive response, aggressive response, and passive aggressive response.  To foster effective response styles we discussed a technique for acknowledgement. 

In this section, we will continue our discussion on effective response styles for building self-esteem by focusing on the Cognitive Behavior Therapy technique of clouding the critic. Our discussion will include three different methods of clouding.  These three methods are agreeing in part, agreeing in probability, and agreeing in principle. 

♦ CBT Technique: Clouding the Critic
First, let’s discuss clouding.  Clouding involves a token agreement with the critic.  It is used when criticism is neither constructive nor accurate.  When clients use clouding to deal with criticism, he or she is saying to the critic, ‘Yes, that is a partial truth.’  The client ‘clouds’ by agreeing in part, probability, or principle. 

Maria, age 36, used clouding to deal with criticism from her husband.  Maria stated, "My mother constantly berated me for unreliability when I was young.  It made me feel so useless.  Now my husband does it.  Last week he said to me, ‘Maria, you’re not reliable.  You forget to pick up the kids, you let the bills pile up until we could lose the roof over our heads, and I can’t ever count on you to be there when I need you.’" 

3 Methods of Clouding

♦ #1 - Agreeing In Part
When Maria used clouding to deal with this criticism, she agreed in part.  When a client agrees in part, he or she finds one part of what a critic is saying and acknowledges just that one part.  Thus Maria’s response to her husband’s charge of unreliability was, "You’re certainly right that I did forget to pick up the kids last week after their swimming lesson." 

As you know, in this example the blanket statement that Maria is unreliable is too global to agree with.  The charge that they will lose the roof over their heads is an exaggeration and the ‘I can’t ever count on you’ just isn’t true.  Therefore the respondent, Maria, picked one factual statement about not picking up the kids and acknowledged that. 

#2 - Agreeing in Probability
The second technique for clouding is agreeing in probability. The client agrees in probability by saying, ‘It’s possible you’re right.’ Even though the chances, in the client’s mind, may be a million to one against it, he or she can still honestly say ‘it’s possible.’ For example, Maria used clouding by agreeing in probability when she felt her husband was nit-picking her. Maria stated, "He tries to beat me down about the way I drive. It makes me feel incompetent."

At a later session, Maria explained how she used clouding by agreeing in probability,  "He kept saying I was riding the clutch and that I was going to ruin the transmission. So I just said, ‘Yes, I may be doing the wrong thing here.’ It felt really good, because I was appearing to agree with him and he was satisfied by that. I felt good because what I meant was ‘Although you might be right, I don’t really think you are. I intend to exercise my right to my own opinion, and I’ll continue to do just as I damn well please.’"

♦ #3 - Agreeing in Principle
In addition to agreeing in part and agreeing in probability, a third method of clouding is agreeing in principle.  This clouding technique acknowledges a critic’s logic without necessarily endorsing all of a critic’s assumptions.  The respondent admits the logical connection made by the critic, but does not agree that he or she is incorrect in his or her decisions.  Maria explained agreeing in principle as agreeing with the critic's logic without agreeing with the critic's assessment of the degree of risk. 

Clearly, the advantage of clouding in its various forms is that it quiets critics without sacrificing the client's self-esteem.  Clouding allows the critic to hear the message that they are right and are satisfied.  Generally, critics don't notice that the client has said that they are only partly right, probably right, or right in principle.  I find that as clients gain assertiveness, they sometimes find it hard to be content with a clouding response. 

Maria stated, "I want to give voice to my opinions on these subjects.  I want to argue and attempt to win my critics over to my point of view."  How might you have responded to Maria?  I stated, "That's all right if the criticism is constructive and the critic is amenable to a change of viewpoint.  But most criticism with which you disagree isn't worth dignifying with an argument.  You and your self-esteem are better off clouding the issue with a token agreement and then changing the subject." 

Like Maria, your client may feel guilty when he or she first tries clouding.  Maria stated, "It feels sneaky and manipulative."  How might you respond to your Maria?  I stated, "If that's the case, remember that you don't owe anything to a critic.  Criticism is unwelcome and uninvited.  Criticism is often a sign of critics' basic negativity and insecurity.  Most critics are manipulative themselves.  Rather than asking you directly to change behavior, they try to influence you by complaining about you.  You might want to consider putting your self-esteem first."

As a therapist, counselor, et cetera, you may consider letting your client know that clouding has a disadvantage if used too soon.  Client's may find it helpful to remember that if they don't fully understand the critic's motives or message, they may miss hearing something beneficial.  As I stated to Maria, "Before jumping in with your clouding response, make sure that you understand what is being said and determine if the critic is trying to be constructive.  If you can't tell, use probing."

In this section, we continued our discussion on effective response styles by focusing on the CBT technique of clouding the critic.  Our discussion included three different methods of clouding.  These three methods are agreeing in part, agreeing in probability, and agreeing in principle. 

- Cummings, J. A., Hayes, A. M., Cardaciotto, L., & Newman, C. F. (Jan 2013). The Dynamics of Self-Esteem in Cognitive Therapy for Avoidant and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorders: An Adaptive Role of Self-Esteem Variability? National Institute of Health, 1-16.

In the next section, we will finish our discussion of effective response styles by discussing probing.  We will discuss key words, a list of don’ts and techniques for probing the nagger.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Andersen, S. M. & Przybylinski, E. (Mar 2014). Cognitive distortion in interpersonal relations: Clinical implications of social cognitive research on person perception. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 24(1), 13-24.

Barnett, M. D., Maciel, I. V., & King, M. A. (2019). Sandbagging and the self: Does narcissism explain the relationship between sandbagging and self-esteem? Journal of Individual Differences, 40(1), 20-25.

Burke, E., Pyle, M., Machin, K., Varese, F., & Morrison, A. P. (2019). The effects of peer support on empowerment, self-efficacy, and internalized stigma: A narrative synthesis and meta-analysis. Stigma and Health, 4(3), 337–356.

Cummings, J. A., Adele M., Hayes, L. C., & Newman, C. F. (January 1, 2013). The Dynamics of Self-Esteem in Cognitive Therapy for Avoidant and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorders: An Adaptive Role of Self-Esteem Variability. National Institute of Health, 1-16.

Danielsson, M. & Bengtsson, H. (2016). Global self-esteem and the processing of positive information about the self. Personality and Individual Differences, 99, 325–330.

Dunkley, D. M., Starrs, C. J., Gouveia, L., & Moroz, M. (2020). Self-critical perfectionism and lower daily perceived control predict depressive and anxious symptoms over four years. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 67(6), 736–746.

Kannan, D., & Levitt, H. M. (2013). A review of client self-criticism in psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 23(2), 166–178.

Mrozowicz-Wrońska, M. (2023). Defense mechanisms as predictors of anxiety and self-esteem—A multiple regression analysis. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 40(4), 348–353.

Peer, M., Nadar, C., & Epstein, R. A. (2023). The format of the cognitive map depends on the structure of the environment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication.

Ray, J. V., Hall, J., Rivera-Hudson, N., Poythress, N. G., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Morano, M. (Jan 2013). The relation between self-reported psychopathic traits and distorted response styles: A meta-analytic review. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 4(1), 1-14.

Smith, M. M., Hewitt, P. L., Sherry, S. B., Flett, G. L., Kealy, D., Tasca, G. A., Ge, S., Ying, F., & Bakken, K. (2023). A meta-analytic test of the efficacy of cognitive behavioural therapy for perfectionism: A replication and extension. Canadian Psychology / Psychologie canadienne, 64(4), 355–376.

What are three methods of clouding?
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Section 6
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