Throughout my career, I’ve almost exclusively worked with clients using a variety of techniques associated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); specifically developing an awareness of cognitive distortions. At its core, CBT is rooted within the model that an individual’s perception or thought about an event is what triggers a response or reaction rather than the event itself. Often our perception is biased or distorted. Sometimes we call this way of thinking “unhelpful thinking styles”.
In 1989, Dr. David Burns wrote, “The Feeling Good Handbook”, identifying some of the most common ways we engage in distorted thinking. These thinking styles are styles in which everyone engages from time to time, but sometimes we may find ourselves trapped in this thinking. When this happens, anxiety, negative self concept or low esteem, and/or a depressed state can set in. Its important, for our well-being, that we remain aware of our thinking styles and recognize when patterns begin to form.
Here is a list of some of the most common unhelpful thinking styles I have come across with clients:
1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: Sometimes called “black and white” thinking or thinking in absolute terms.
“I can’t do it perfect, so I failed.”
“If I can’t do this right, I’m not doing it ever.”
2. OVERGENERALIZATION: We draw broad conclusions based on one negative event.
“I was bitten by a dog when I was 12, so I will be bitten by all dogs.”
“I felt awkward in my job interview, so I’m always awkward.”
3. MENTAL FILTER: Paying attention to and dwelling on specific types of evidence.
Your art project receives numerous accolades and one criticism, so its the criticism you focus on.
4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: For some reason or another, we reject the positive or good things that happen to us.
Receiving a compliment on a new hairstyle and thinking the person doesn’t really believe this, but is just trying to be nice.
5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: Concluding things are bad or going to turn out bad without any evidence.
MIND READING – We think we know what others are thinking.
Passing by a friend who doesn’t see you, therefore doesn’t acknowledge you, so you think s/he is mad at you.
FORTUNE TELLING – We predict the outcome of a situation will be negative.
“I’m not going to get hired for that job.”
6. CATASTROPHIZING: Thinking something is much worse than it actually is.
“I haven’t made a sale in 3 weeks, so I’m probably going to get fired.”
“I was angry at my wife and said some things I shouldn’t have. She is probably going to leave me now.”
7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: When we assume that because we feel a specific way, that is the way things are.
“I feel like a bad friend because I haven’t reached out in a while. I’m a terrible person.”
“I feel embarrassed by my mistake, so I must be dumb.”
8. PERSONALIZATION: Taking the blame for something that is not your fault.
“My mom came home from work mad, so it must be because I didn’t do the dishes.”
Can you identify the unhelpful thinking styles in which you engage?