Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

Worth Living Ambassador Haddi Browne

Hello, my name is Haddi. I am a Research professional and a Psychology graduate. During my course, I volunteered within various mental health services, which included working on a helpline for people affected by mental illness, organising activities for inpatients on a psychiatric ward, and working in a therapeutic community for people with severe mental illnesses. For me, the most interesting parts of my degree were learning about different mental illnesses and their causes and treatments.

Unhelpful Thinking Patterns

One of the modules I found interesting whilst studying was Cognitive Psychology. During this part of my course, I learned about cognitive distortions and negative thinking. I learned about the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviour and how negative thinking can keep us in unhealthy, vicious cycles.

Cognitive distortions are a concept used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and they are defined as exaggerated or irrational patterns of thinking. These irrational thoughts and beliefs can lead to difficult emotions and behaviour, like anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and relationship problems.

Here are 10 common cognitive distortions:
1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: seeing things in black-and-white categories. Believing that someone or something can only be good or bad, right or wrong, rather than anything in between or ‘shades of grey’.
2. OVERGENERALISATION: Making judgments based on a single negative event. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen again and again.
3. MENTAL FILTER: Picking out a single negative detail and dwelling on it. Only noticing what the filter wants you to notice, like only catching negative things in your ‘kitchen strainer’ whilst anything more positive or realistic is dismissed.
4. MIND READING: Assuming you know what others are thinking. Concluding that someone is thinking negatively about you, without any evidence that it’s true.
5. PREDICTION: Anticipating that things will turn out badly, and believing that you know what’s going to happen in the future.
6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMISATION: Exaggerating the importance of things (such as your mistake or someone else’s achievement), or shrinking things until they appear insignificant (like your own achievements or qualities). Also, exaggerating the risk of danger or the negatives.
7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: Assume that your negative emotions must reflect the way things really are: “I feel bad so it must be bad!”
8. SHOULDS AND MUSTS: Putting pressure on yourself by thinking or saying “I should/shouldn’t” or “I must/mustn’t”. This can result in feeling guilty. When you direct such statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
9. COMPARE AND DESPAIR: Seeing only the good things in others and feeling upset when you compare yourself negatively against them.
10. PERSONALISATION: Blaming yourself for events or situations that are not totally your responsibility.

We can probably all relate to at least a few of these thinking styles. Being aware of your thoughts and identifying cognitive distortions can help you challenge negative thoughts.

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