How to Spot & Stop Negative Thinking with CBT (Part 2)

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

Read Part 1 of this article.

Here’s the 11 negative thinking patterns that can trip you up.

An important thing to be aware of is that unhealthy or negative thinking patterns are actually thinking errors that give us a distorted view of reality. They do not offer an accurate, factual or balanced view of reality.

1 All or nothing thinking

This style of thinking refers to thinking in extremes or black and white thinking. You are either a success or a total failure. Your friend is always on your side or they are unfriended. This black and white way of thinking does not account for shades of gray, and can be responsible for a great deal of negative evaluations of yourself and others which can lower your self esteem.

A corrective thought for all or nothing thinking could be “even though I got a lower grade than I wanted, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure as a person. My average is B+.”

Stress, anxiety & depression are fuelled by negative thinking

2 Blaming

Blaming ourselves, someone else or a situation for a set-back, mistake or problem instead of using it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

3 Catastrophising or minimising

Catastrophising is blowing things out of proportion. If your partner is late home you might think he’s having an affair or perhaps you imagine him lying hurt or dead after a car accident. If you fail a paper you might think “I’ll never be able to get a job, I’m so stupid.”

A useful question to ask yourself when you’re catastrophising is “OK what do I know for a fact to be true?” List those things to yourself. Then each time your brain jumps back into catastrophising mode remind yourself of the facts and acknowledge that there’s no point in worrying and winding yourself up over things that are very likely to not be true.

Minimising on the other hand often happens when someone pays you a compliment and you tell yourself “oh they were only being nice.” or “they don’t really believe that.”

4 Mental filter

This pattern of thinking is when we only pay attention to certain types of evidence. For example, only noticing our failures, disqualifying the positive and not taking into account our successes.

This is a very common thinking pattern that sets us up for feeling bad about ourselves or the world around us.

Do you only notice your faults, the things you want to change about yourself?

5 Jumping to conclusions

Jumping to conclusions is one of the most common thinking errors. When you think you can accurately know what other people are thinking or you know how things are going to turn out you’re engaging in some ‘Mystic Meg’ style thinking.

People usually jump to conclusions in the absence of any solid evidence or facts.

None of us can accurately predict the future or definitively know what someone else is thinking or how they will react. Our predictions are often way off target. Therefore, it’s important to not let our false assumptions dictate our decisions and actions but to follow through on what’s right for us, even if that means sometimes being the person who says “no”.

6 Personalisation

Personalisation is blaming yourself or taking on full responsibility for something that wasn’t entirely your fault.

For example, if your boss walks in and shouts at you for leaving a comma off a report, chances are his reaction has nothing or little to do with you - and more likely that he’s just in a bad mood, the kids were playing up and he hasn’t had his morning coffee yet.

While we can all do this, in my experience women tend to do this a lot more than men - blaming themselves and then going into a downward spiral of “what’s wrong with me?” thinking.

7 Labelling

Assigning labels to ourselves or others. “He’s such an arse!”

When we put a label on someone it’s like we’ve tarred them with a brush, like they only have this one quality or like they behave this way all of the time.

It stops our mind from being open to new information and interactions, and makes us react to people and situations as if our negative assumptions are correct. This is a great way to make those negatives come true!

8 Emotional reasoning

“Because I feel something strongly, what I feel must be true eg because I feel discouraged by my performance on a recent project I then think I’m a failure”.

Your emotional response to a singular situation is colouring how you feel about yourself as a person.

A corrective thought could be - “I didn’t do as well as I would have liked on that project. There were some issues I couldn’t figure out at all. Even though my boss seemed a bit disappointed he knows I’m a hard worker and put my best into my work. Also, everyone screws up sometimes.”

Can you allow yourself to make mistakes - and be human?

9 Should / should have / must

Using critical words like “should” and “must” can make us feel guilty or like we have already failed.

If we apply shoulds to other people the result is often frustration and anger.

10 Overgeneralization

The use of a single negative event as evidence for a never-ending pattern of negative events. Have I taken one or a small number of unwanted experiences as proof that I’m condemned forever to repeat them?

11 Compare and despair

Seeing only the good and positive aspects in others, and comparing ourselves negatively against them.

Am I doing that ‘compare and despair’ thing? What would be a more balanced and helpful way of looking at it?

#unhealthythinkingpatterns #Cognitivebehaviouraltherapy #therapyanxietydepression