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Ten Forms of Distorted Thinking

1. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in polarized, black or white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely." This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream!

2. Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event, such as romantic rejection or a career reversal as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!"

3. 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 a beaker of water. Example: you receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about her reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback,

4. Discounting the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy our of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5. Jumping to conclusions: You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. Mind reading: without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively. Fortune telling: you predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test, you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?" If you are depressed you may tell yourself, "I'll never get better."

6. Magnification: You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."

7. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrible about going on airplanes. It must be dangerous to fly." Or, "I feel guilty, I must be a rotten person. Or, "I feel so inferior, this means I'm a second rate person." Or, "I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless."

8. Should statements: You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts," and "have to's" are similar offenders. Should statements that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements directed at other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn't have been so stubborn and argumentative." Many people try to motivate themselves with should and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn't eat that donut." This usually doesn't work because all these should and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite.

9. Labelling: Labelling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying, "I made a mistake," you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." You might also label yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk." Labelling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools," "losers," and "jerks," do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, frustration, anxiety and low self-esteem.

10. Personification and Blame: Personification occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I were a better cook, he wouldn't beat me." Personification leads to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy. Some people do the opposite and they blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It's like a game of hot potato - no one wants to get stuck with it.

This article is a resource written by/from Adele Brown Counselling Services.

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