These are ways of thinking that are not useful and obstruct rational thought. Often these thinking styles become habit and occur automatically.
For individuals who are depressed or anxious, these styles of thinking can actually help maintain symptoms; so recognising the types of unhelpful thinking that you engage in, is often one of the first steps in the therapy process.
9 Unhelpful Thinking Styles
Here are some common unhelpful thinking styles:
- Catastrophising – This is when we blow a situation out of proportion, making a mountain out of a molehill. Statements such as “My life is over”, “I’ll never work again”, or “They are all going to hate me”, are good examples of this.
- Mental filter – This is when we only notice what the filter allows us to notice and dismiss everything else. Usually this means that we focus on the negative aspects of the situation and discount the positive parts. For example, leaving a party and feeling upset because you couldn’t remember one person’s name.
- Black and White Thinking – This is when everything is seen in extremes and there is no room for middle ground. It is all or nothing and there are no shades of grey when thinking this way. People are right or wrong, situations are good or bad.
- Over Generalisation – This is when we take one instance in the past or present and apply it to all current and future situations. For example, “I will always be a failure in social situations”. Statements that begin with the words “I’ll always”, “I’ll never”, or “Everyone will”, are usually indicative of over generalisation.
- Jumping to conclusions – When we assume we know what will happen in the future (predictive thinking) or what someone might say before we ask (mind reading). Jumping to conclusions really limits your opportunities to experience new situations, as if you never try you never know!
- Personalisation – This involves blaming yourself and putting yourself down for events outside of your control. Whether you are partly to blame or not to blame at all, you believe that external events are entirely your fault.
- Emotional Reasoning – This is when you believe that if you feel something then it must be true. For example, feeling stupid and boring, does not mean you are stupid and boring. Emotional reasoning is not rational, as feelings can have many causes and do not necessarily reflect reality.
- Comparing – This is when we only see the good and positive aspects in others and compare ourselves against them negatively. We often over exaggerate the good qualities in others, and inflate our negative qualities.
- Shoulding and Musting – Using terms excessively like “I should” (or shouldn’t) and “I must” can put a lot pressure on yourself and others. Although these statements are not always unhelpful (eg “I should get my assignment done”) they can sometimes set up unrealistic expectations (eg “I must get an HD in this assignment”).
Recognising your unhelpful thinking styles is the first step. Once you can identify them, you can start to notice when they occur. Once you can notice them, you can start to challenge or distance yourself from those thoughts and try to see the situation in a different and more helpful way.
Author: Ashley Cooper, B Psych (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Ashley Cooper is a registered Clinical Psychologist, working with children, adolescents and adults. She is passionate about helping individuals to overcome their mental health issues and improve their quality of life.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Ashley Cooper try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.