Maladaptive Thinking Patterns


Your brain may make errors, and you can catch them!

Have you ever thought about your “thoughts” and found errors in them?

After you read this article, you will start identifying errors in your thoughts which will lead to an insightful journey in your mind.

In order to understand how you make errors in your thinking, it is important to understand the triangle of thoughts, feelings and behaviors I wrote about in my previous article. (click here)

The basic idea is that our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all related to each other. The way you think about something will effect the way you feel which in turn will effect your behavior. If you THINK that your partner is lying to you, you will FEEL angry and you will BEHAVE in a way that you will yell at them or you will question them.

In many cases, if you change the way you think, you will automatically change the way you feel and you behave. Let’s take a look at the common mistakes that we all make in our everyday thinking which may lead to anxiety or depression.  While going through the list, try to come up with example from your life and count how many of these you engage in. Think about how there is always an alternative to these thoughts.

1. Magnification and Minimization: You might find yourself exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. For example, if you made a mistake at work, you might feel like your whole career is destroyed, or you may disregard your achievements. As a result, you FEEL hopeless, sad, upset.

Alternative thought: “Maybe I made a mistake but I will learn from it and will never do it again”

2. Catastrophizing: You only focus on the worst possible outcomes of a situation. “I haven’t heard back from him for the last couple of hours, what if he died in a car accident?”. As a result, you FEEL anxious, worried, scared.

Alternative thought:  His battery might have died or he might be sleeping.

3. Overgeneralization: You make broad interpretations from a single or a few events. “My previous partner cheated on me, all men/women are the same!” or “I never do anything right” “You always forget your responsibilities. As a result, you FEEL hopeless, discouraged.

Alternative thought:  Maybe your previous partner cheated on you but he/she is not the same person with everyone else.

It’s not that you never do anything right, maybe you made a mistake this time, but what about all your previous accomplishments?

He doesn’t always forget his responsibilities. Think about how he did everything you asked from him last week. He made a mistake this time, but he doesn’t “always” do that.

4. Personalization: You believe that you are responsible of the events outside of your control and you take things personal. “She didn’t say hi to me when she saw me today. She might be mad at me for some reason.” As a result, you FEEL sad, confused, worthless

Alternative thought: Maybe she is having a very bad day or she is lost in her thoughts that she didn’t even realize you were there.

5. Jumping to conclusions: You interpret a situation with little or no evidence. “I saw the look on her face, she is not going to give me a promotion”. “He didn’t call me last night, our relationship is probably over” As a result, you FEEL hopeless, sad, worried.

Alternative thought: You can’t conclude that you will not be promoted with just one look, you have all the accomplishments.

The fact that he didn’t call you doesn’t necessarily mean you are done. Maybe he didn’t feel like calling you or maybe he fell asleep.

6. Mind reading: You interpret the thoughts and beliefs of others without enough evidence. “She probably thinks I am stupid” or “People in the room must think that I am a loser because I asked this question” As a result, you FEEL  insecure, inferior, nervous.

Alternative thought: Did she tell you that you are stupid or is it just how you are thinking? Did everyone in the room came to you and said that you were a loser? How can you know what everyone thinks unless they tell you how they actually think?

7. Disqualifying the positive: You recognize only negative aspects of a situation and you ignore the positive. “Why did I answer this question wrong?” or “Why did that person give me that negative feedback?” As a result, you FEEL worried, uncomfortable, unsuccessful.

Alternative thought:  How about all the other questions that you answered right or how about all the other positive feedback you got?

8. Should statements: You believe that things “should”  be in a certain way. “I shouldn’t feel sad about this” or “I should be more outgoing” As a result, you FEEL insecure, sad, upset, mad. dissatisfied with yourself.

Alternative thought: There is no such thing as should. It is only about putting more pressure on yourself. Accept yourself as you are because you did or felt what was right for you at that moment.

9. All-or-nothing thinking: You always think the absolutes. You will find yourself making sentences such as “I always….” or “You never….” – “You are always late!” As a result, you FEEL angry, mad, upset, sad.

Alternative thought: Try to find alternatives. This is related to overgeneralizing. A person is not always good or bad. There are times they are good and there are times they are bad. He is not “always” late, he was on time last week but it’s just today that he was a couple of minutes late.

As you see, each thought has errors associated with it. It is important to be aware of those errors and try to look for alternative. When you are feeling a negative emotion, ask yourself which thought is leading to that emotion. Then, try to come with alternatives to that thought which in turn may change the way you feel about it.

Ipek Aykol, LMFT 97315

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