These descriptions of Faulty Thinking Patterns are quite a lot to absorb all at once. Read them through and you can come back to them again.
1. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with `shoulds and shouldn’ts’, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. ‘Musts’ and ‘oughts’ are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct `should’ statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration and resentment. This type of thinking is common among perfectionists. I think that this word causes more problems in relationships than any other.
When people tell each other what they should or shouldn’t do, the consequence is anger and resentment. It comes across as controlling and unaccepting. What you are really saying is that if you do what I tell you your life will be much better. This is quite arrogant, as we cannot possibly know what is better for another person. Don’t presume that what is right for you is right for the other person.
- You’re out shopping and get irritated. ‘That salesclerk should treat me with respect’ you say, ‘after all I am the customer’. You could also change your response to something like this: ‘The salesclerk could treat me with respect, but then again, it looks like she’s having a really rotten day and I get crabby too, when things go like that’. Try and not to always reflect situations negatively onto yourself. Try to see what could be happening with the other person.
People who are task oriented are more inclined to want to fix up peoples problems, which involves a lot of ‘should’’ statements. Rather try to just listen to how the person is feeling, believing that they have it within themselves to solve their problem and maybe just need a listening, uncritical ear. Once we feel that we have been heard we often are able to move on and sort out our problems. Often being given advice and being told what we should or shouldn’t do actually makes it worse.
- Sue thought she had done pretty well on her history test. She thought she might get an A or a B. Instead, she got a D. As she looked at the paper, she thought, ‘I’m a total failure. I’m so stupid. I never do anything right! I work so hard in school and still nothing seems to work out right for me.’ There are quite a few distortions in this thinking including all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, as well as blowing things out of all proportion (magnification).
- What about the common statement, ‘if you can’t do things perfectly don’t do it at all’. This is also a case of all or nothing thinking. This kind of thinking robs one of learning from the mistakes we all make and which teach us lessons.
- Your house has the normal everyday clutter and you label yourself as a failure as a housekeeper because your house isn’t perfectly tidy. A normal house is somewhere in between. If you label yourself as a failure if your housekeeping is not perfect you’ll also be quite a pain to live with, always nagging your spouse to put things away. If your spouse is not tidy agree to have some area for them to have their mess. Tidiness doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.
- What about the thought ‘if you can’t say anything intelligent don’t say anything at all.’ Better keep quiet, in case you say something ‘stupid’! This thought is also ridiculous as much conversation is just ordinary chatter make connections with people. Relax a bit. You can remain a silent captive or change your belief and practice becoming more spontaneous which will probably open up the possibility of more friendships and give you more joy.
3. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. The key words here are ‘always, never, nobody, everybody, totally, completely, forever, every time’. When you overgeneralize you see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
- If you are arguing with your spouse it doesn’t help to say you never listen to me, or you always come home late. Because you will start arguing about whether it is actually always or never. The important issue is actually how it makes you feel. So a statement like ‘I feel unloved when you come home late so often, or when you don’t phone and tell me’, is much better and based in reality. Stating how you feel means it doesn’t come across as an accusation.
- Your spouse criticizes or starts arguing with you. You get an emotional reaction inside but you keep smiling and try to keep the peace at all costs because you have a false belief that ‘happy couples never disagree’. To keep this belief intact any dissatisfaction or hurt has to be suppressed. This is so unrealistic as no two people can always agree. Eventually the pressure cooker will burst and the result can be very hurtful and messy. The truth is that we all have different opinions and it’s okay to have a different opinion to your partner. If your partner doesn’t agree with you it doesn’t mean that they’re right and you’re wrong. all it means is that you have different opinions and you are entitled to your own opinions. When you get that negative thump on your chest and you say, ‘I always say the wrong thing’, change your self-talk to `it is only his or her opinion, it doesn’t mean that I am wrong’ I know that this advice has helped many people that I have counselled, because this is the truth.
- If someone disappoints you, do you write them off 100% declaring that you will never trust them again. Or if someone of the opposite sex hurts you might even overgeneralize even more to never trusting anyone of that gender again. Isn’t it true that we all disappoint people at times? We’d like to be forgiven so maybe we also need to be more forgiving.
- Some other common statements are overgeneralizations include: Things will never get better, I’ll never amount to anything.
These kind of statements lead to a feeling of hopelessness and therefore ultimately depression.
4. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolours the entire beaker of water.
- You have a pleasant family outing but the children fight on the way home. You tell them they’ve spoilt the entire day. It’s just not true. The children were noisy in the car going home which was understandable as they were tired. It did not spoil the entire day but you block out the many pleasant moments of the day by this thinking. In fact we can’t really expect children to behave like angels all the time – that’s unrealistic.
- You go out for dinner and the service takes a bit long. You have two choices, either let this spoil your whole evening or you can acknowledge it as an inconvenience, accept that the waiter is probably not intentionally out to spoil your entire evening. Rather choose to enjoy your time together. You can choose what you think.
5. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they `don’t count” for some reason or another. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
- You did well in an assignment. ‘Oh it was just luck, or the lecturer was in a good mood when he marked it, or the sun was shining or whatever.’ Your positive input, the time you spent studying is just negated, you’ve disqualified the positive experience, the reward for your hard work.
- You get a promotion at work and conclude that it’s only because you’ve been working there for 10 years so they had no choice.
Ignoring the positive implies that we should only pay attention to problems, or areas that need improving. This robs us of joy, satisfaction and self-esteem. It gives us a dreary outlook on life and we can stay negative even when all sorts of positive things are happening around us.
6. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation of an event without any definite facts to support your conclusion. This type of thinking is typical of anxiety and whenever you jump to conclusions ask yourself what evidence you have.
- Mind Reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. You assume you know what they are thinking. ‘She told me she had to visit her grandmother, but I know it was just an excuse not to visit me’. ‘Your friend tells you how nice you are looking but this has confirmed your belief that she normally thinks you look terrible. Afterall why else would she make the comment’. ‘Your son comes and starts a conversation. You half listen because you’re reading the paper and decide that he’s only talking to you because he wants something from you, it’s definitely either money or your car. You get impatient and say. Okay, what do you want?’ Maybe he doesn’t want something, maybe he just wants to talk.’ Often married couples expect their spouse to mind read their needs. Learn to verbalize your needs; it will make for a happier marriage.
- Nobody can mind-read so as soon as you start deciding what someone thinks you’ve got to consciously stop mid-track and ask yourself, ‘what did the person actually say’ rather than presuming that your mind-reading is reflecting the truth. Ask yourself what proof you that that your thought is true.
- Fortune Telling: This one is future related. you anticipate that things will turn out badly, and to go from bad to worse, you’ve convinced yourself that your predition is an established fact. ‘I won’t go to that party tomorrow. So and so is going to be there and I know it’s going to be so boring!’ When the boss doesn’t greet you in the morning you convince yourself that he’s going to fire you. Maybe you wait anxiously for the bad news or maybe you decide to get in first and save the embarrassment of being fired and hand in your notice by lunchtime! Your husband is late, dinner’s getting cold and you haven’t heard a word and he hasn’t got a cell phone. What thoughts rush into your mind – He’s having an affair, he’s at the pub, he’s been in an accident! The anxiety mounts! When he walks in you blast him before he has a chance to tell you the perfectly valid reason for being late. Acting on what you incorrectly believed to be the truth you have spoiled the mood for the evening. How often do you hear people say `never mind – things will be better in the morning – you just need a good nights sleep’. How can they predict that things will be better in the morning?
Are your thoughts based in reality or are you fortune telling? If you are prone to anxiety, then mind reading and fortune telling are your most common faulty thinking patterns.
7. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: This is also called the ‘binocular effect’.You know when you look through the one side of binoculars everything looks big. You look through the other side and everything shrinks and looks tiny. We often magnify or minimize the importance of what others or we do or say.
- Maybe you go overboard in praising other people’s achievements in an effort to keep their love or approval. You’re magnifying their achievement, making it greater than it actually is. On the other hand you make a small mistake and you view it as a train smash. ‘ I’m a real failure’ you tell yourself, ‘I’m useless’. and so on. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. You’re magnifying your mistake.
- If you obsess or have sleepless nights over some conversation, replaying it over and over again in your mind, you are probably magnifying the importance of what was said.
- If you loose your temper over minor incidents you are probably magnifying the importance of what has happened. You are turning relatively unimportant things into a train smash.
- Or maybe you minimize your good qualities. Someone tells you how nice your dress is and you reply ‘oh this old thing’. Basically you are rejecting their compliment and they will stop complimenting you. A compliment is a gift – say thank you!
- How do you respond to your child’s report card? Do you say things like ‘you did well getting 5 A’s but the B was disappointing’. If you point out other peoples imperfections or weaknesses you are a minimizer. Sometimes parents think that criticism will motivate children to improve. It doesn’t, it minimizes the child. If you use the word ‘but’ or ‘yes, but’ a lot, you are probably a minimizer because the word ‘but’ negates all that comes before it.
8. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: `I feel it, therefore it must be true’.
- ‘I don’t feel like getting up so it must be a bad idea, I’ll just stay in bed all day’. The truth is that getting up and doing something will help you. Check out your feelings, they can be distorted.
- ‘I feel like an idiot so I must be an idiot!’ Not true, your feelings don’t always reflect the truth.
9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: `I’m a loser’. When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: `He’s a jerk’. Mislabelling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
Don’t label your children either with labels like, ‘that’s the naughty one’, ‘that one’s a handful’. Labels can stick. When you label your children, they believe you are speaking the truth as parents to children are kind of ‘god-like’. The label can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
10. PERSONALIZATION AND BLAME: You blame yourself for something that you really were not responsible for.
- ‘If I were a better mother, my child would have done better at school’. This is really not logical as the bad marks probably had more to do with the child not doing enough studying.
On the other hand if your language is full of ‘if only‘ statements you are probably prone to blaming outside events for your situation. ‘If only I hadn’t come from a dysfunctional family’. ‘If only my husband was nicer to me, then I’d be happy’.
If you blame others or circumstances, you are playing a victim role and will always be at the mercy of how you perceive others to treat you. Remember it’s not the event that causes your mood, but rather how you interpret the event, so you can’t blame others for your mood!