Unhelpful thinking styles have a lot of overlap with each other, so if you think it may be more than one or can’t decide which one, it could be that it fits the description of more than one style.
Unhelpful Thinking Styles
1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: Also called black-and-white thinking, technically called dichotomous thinking. It is viewing things in terms of categories of good and bad, or yes and no. When this is the lens you use to examine your behaviour then if you are not perfect you can only be the opposite category, not good enough, a failure.
2. OVERGENERALISATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern. Sometimes represented in the use of absolute statements, such as “this always happens to me.”
3. MENTAL FILTER: Technically called selective abstraction. This is where someone focuses on one aspect of an event, or one type of evidence. The exclusion of other evidence is the filter. For example, repeatedly going over disappointments in life, to the point you miss your achievements. Such as the high school friend that focussed on the disappointment of being turned down for a date by one girl he asked out when he was 16, to the point that at 18 he did not notice the very attractive girl who would constantly ask him to come out.
4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: This occurs where positive experiences are explained away. They don’t count for some reason. In this way the unhelpful thinking is maintained, despite the contradictory evidence of positive experiences. For example, the boss says you did a good job, and in your head you say, yes but Fred helped me. What is missed is that you also did the work, not just Fred. Another example is when people down play their skills as if anyone could do it. For example, the truck driver who reverses his 18 wheel truck into a tight loading bay, “anyone could do it.” Actually, it is a skill that not many people have.
5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: A negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts to support the conclusion. It happens in two forms.
a. Mind Reading: Thinking you know what others think.
b. Fortune Telling: Predicting the future. We usually behave as if the prediction is established fact.
6. CATASTROPHISING or MAGNIFICATION: The importance of an event is exaggerated and a negative outcome is assumed to be inevitable. One event is seen as a chain of events only getting worse and worse. For example, failing one subject means you will fail a whole course and never go on to have a career. By using this style of predicting the worse possible outcome feelings of anxiety or depression are intensified and the result is inevitably feeling bad. The true probability of any outcome is rarely examined.
7. MINIMIZATION: Shrinking the importance of things. Including the importance of your own feelings. It includes things like saying “it doesn’t matter”, when others have hurt your feelings; or when you are experiencing unpleasant emotions. It also includes a discounting of any achievements you have made.
8. EMOTIONAL REASONING: Emotions that are not related to what you think reinforce your belief in what you think. In your mind you say something while feeling bad, and the bad feeling makes it sound true. The bad feeling is not necessarily related to what you are saying to yourself.
“I feel so bad it must be true.”
Another example: A Seven year old who has been building things from lego for years, while building a new lego truck, it breaks, he feels disappointment. In the context of this he states “I am no good at building lego.” It might sound true because he feels so bad. At this point he has also lost sight of all the positive experiences he has had building lego.
9. ABSOLUTES: Words or phrases that represent an undoubted, certain or fixed point of view. Sometimes used as a motivational tool; “I should to this, I shouldn’t do that”. Just like a whip it might get you to do something, but it hurts, it might even leave marks!
Includes terms like never, must, can’t, have to, always, every time. This is a great one for leading to the emotional consequence of guilt. In addition, it can lead to high or unrealistic expectations of others who have let you down because they did not do what they “should have”, leading to emotional consequences of anger, frustration, and resentment.
10. LABELLING AND MISLABELLING: Using negative labels to describe yourself or others. It is a form of overgeneralisation. A personalised variation on school yard name calling. Statements such as I’m a loser. He’s a looser, I am stupid, and she’s stupid are used instead of describing what has happened.
11. PERSONALISATION: You see yourself as the cause of some negative event. If you examined the facts, the complexities of the event would demonstrate that you were not in fact 100% responsible for it. Who examines the facts though!
12. MAGICAL THINKING: Occurs when you link actions and events that are in fact not linked. For example, saying good luck to an actor does not increase the likelihood of bad luck, just as much as saying break a leg does not increase the likelihood of good luck.
Just as in our office mentioning to the administrative and reception team that it is a quiet day, does not cause the day to become busy or emergency calls to occur.
Perceiving a link between certain acts and bad outcomes can increase anxiety. For example avoiding stepping on cracks due to fear of breaking your mothers back.