Modern psychotherapy tells us that when stress becomes a disorder it causes a shift in thinking – and we filter and process situations and events though a distorted and gloomy lens. The ’picture’ is off track, and it is not the situation that is causing our upset, it is our judgement of the situation (to paraphrase the philosopher Epictetus).
The following are the most common thinking patterns people with anxiety and depression develop. Note: all of us do some of these some of the time, but when we adopt many of them as our natural default position, we have a problem. Can you see yourself here? If you can, don’t worry, that’s a good thing! It means you have the ability to self critique, and that if you put the work in, you can dismantle those habits and build new ones using rational thinking skills with CBT.
- All or Nothing Thinking – Sometimes called “Black and White Thinking”. If I’m not perfect I have failed. Either I do it right or not at all.
- Over Generalising – “Everything is always rubbish”, “Nothing good ever happens”. Seeing a pattern based upon a single event, or being overly broad in the conclusions we draw.
- Mental Filter – Only paying attention to certain types of evidence. Noticing our failures but not seeing our successes.
- Disqualifying the Positive – Discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done for some reason or another. That doesn’t count.
- Jumping to Conclusions – There are two key types of jumping to conclusions. Mind reading is imagining we know what others are thinking. Fortune telling is predicting the future.
- Magnification (catastrophising and minimisation) – Blowing things out of proportion (catastrophising), or inappropriately shrinking something to make it seems less important.
- Emotional Reasoning – Assuming that because we feel a certain way what we think must be true. I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot.
- Using Critical Words – Using critical words like “should”, “must”, or “ought” can make us feel guilty, or like we have already failed. If we apply “shoulds” to other people the result is often frustration.
- Labelling – Assigning labels to ourselves or other people. I’m a loser. I’m completely useless. They’re such an idiot.
- Personalisation “this is my fault”, being yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn’t completely your fault. Conversely, blaming other people for something that was your fault.