As a child, your parents and other support systems had a significant influence on how your brain perceived the world. These perceptions formed your core beliefs about how you view the world, others, and the future. From these foundational beliefs, your brain developed automatic thoughts that you constantly have as you go through the day. Unfortunately, your brain formulated thinking errors as information processing shortcuts. These cognitive distortions are schemas that were formed based on irrational, immature, and faulty knowledge. Especially when you are in crisis, your brain is not able to process all the data to logically respond. In general, we do not make the most informed decisions because our brain is overwhelmed and stressed. These types of thinking are at the root of depression, anxiety, and anger.
Identifying and restructuring negative thoughts is at the core of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). With a CBT therapist, you learn how to recognize unhelpful thoughts and to develop more, adaptive thinking processes. Eventually, you may be able to restructure your brain’s cognitive processes so that this thinking is automatic. When you have more helpful thinking patterns, you will ultimately feel better and engage in fulfilling behaviors.
Below is a list of common thinking errors and ways to effectively change your thinking pattern. In doing so, you will be less ruled by irrational thinking processes, leading to positive emotions and behaviors
Emotional reasoning refers to the tendency to let our thinking be dominated by our emotions. Your negative emotions dictate your thinking process.
- Example: Your husband yells hurtful comments to you, you may think, “I feel so hurt; therefore, my relationship is over” or “I feel terrible, so my life is terrible.”
- Ask yourself if what you are feeling is really an accurate representation of the situation. What emotions are you feeling? Can you see that these are just feelings and not reality?
Focusing on the negatives is another type of thinking error. This type of thinking is common when you are depressed and angry. Your brain has a negative bias. The glass is half empty, always. You tend to only see bad things.
- Example: You had a romantic break-up and think, “I will never find someone special again” or “This is the worst thing that could ever happen.”
- Is there another, more accurate way to view this situation? What is something positive that came from this situation? What would someone I know say about this instead? Are there examples of when this statement is not true?
Disqualifying the positives of life is another negative thinking pattern. No matter what good comes to you, you tend to dismiss the positives and focus on the negative. For instance, you get
- Example: You get a promotion at work, but have the thought, “It’s no big deal. I just got the promotion because they couldn’t find anyone else to do my work.”
- Can you identify some good you did do? Why else could this have happened to you? Are there some special qualities about myself that led to this happening?
Black and white thinking refers to a dichotomous thinking process. You have difficulty looking at the middle ground. Rather, things are either good or bad, all or nothing. Either people like you or dislike you. You either win or lose. When you engage in this type of thinking, then you tend to think in extremes rather than examining what is happening in a more rational, logical manner. You may tend to use words like always, never, or impossible.
- Example: You fail a test and have the thought, “I am a failure.”
- Is there a middle ground that may apply here? What is a more rational, logical way to examine what happened? What’s a more helpful way to look at this? List out other possible outcomes and steps to achieve it. Ask for the opinions of others who you respect.
Mind reading is the tendency to assume you know what others are thinking. We often use this thinking with our romantic partners or managers at work.
- Example: When your boss looks at you sternly across the conference table, you may assume that he or she is frustrated with your work and you are about to get fired.
- What is the evidence that he or she acted in such a way? Could there be some alternate reasons for why they are expressing these behaviors? Can I just ask the person what they were thinking instead of making assumptions?
Personalization refers to internalizing everything as a personal front to you. Individuals who suffer from low self-esteem tend to engage in this type of thinking.
- Example: Someone cuts you in line at the grocery store and you automatically think that this was an intentional act again you.
- What are some possible outcomes that did not involve me? What are the facts about the situation? Could there be another explanation for why they acted this way?
Magnification and minimization refer to exaggerating insignificant events or minimizing important situations. With magnification, you make mountains out of molehills with this type of negative distortion.
- Example: You get a C on a test and assume that you will never get into college.
- What the actual probability that this will happen? In 1 year, will this really matter? What have you done in the past to tolerate similar events? How can I make this statement less global and internal?
Perfectionism is a tendency to put very high standards on yourself. These high standards can lead to shame, guilt, frustration, and ultimately low self-esteem.
- Example: At your last dance performance, you didn’t get a perfect score and think you are a failure at dancing. Going forward, you have the thought that “I won’t try anything new unless I know I’ll be good at it.”
- Think about the harshness of these self-imposed standards. Are they realistic and attainable? Why is it necessary to achieve these? Do they really benefit me? Will I be loved if I do not have these attributes? What would you tell your child if he or she had this thought?
How to Start Counseling with a CBT Specialist
We all have engaged in one or more of these thinking errors at some point. However, when your thought processes are dominated by negative cognitions, then you are likely going to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, and guilt. These emotions then lead to unhelpful behaviors and, ultimately, dissatisfaction with life.
Fortunately, with the help of a CBT specialist, you can unlearn these habits and develop a healthy way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Cognitive therapy is a skill that, once learned, can benefit you for the rest of your life. If you are interested in starting CBT, Dr. Mazzei offers online CBT and at her Chandler office. Please reach out to schedule an initial consultation or to ask any questions. Dr. Mazzei offers teletherapy, as well as counseling at her office in Chandler, AZ. To start, please text 480-448-6755 or schedule an initial consultation.