Managing Stress: Distorted Thought Patterns

Are the messages that you send yourself causing distress? Listed below are ten Self-defeating thought patterns, which can cause specific kinds of negative emotions. Do any of these seem familiar to you?

All-or-nothing thinking.
Things are either black or white, good or bad. If a situation falls short of being perfect, it is total failure. Remember that there is middle ground; rarely will situations be perfect. If everything short of being perfect is considered a failure, how can one enjoy what is good?

Over generalizations.
You come to a general conclusion about something or someone based on one negative event. Because one bad thing happens you over generalize and say that these things “always” happen or that good things “never” happen. This negative self-talk becomes a script for self-defeat.

Mental filtering.
When you examine a situation, the negative details receive the most attention. They are magnified disproportionately while the positive are filtered out. There are many ways of looking at every situation. Sometimes tragedies occur which do not have many positive aspects. However, when one repeatedly dwells on the negative, reality can become distorted, and things seem much worse than they truly are.

Discounting the positive.
You have difficulty accepting praise or enjoying positive experiences. You reject positive experiences as if 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 it as well. This leaves you with an inadequate and unrewarded feeling, even when things are going well.

You see yourself as being personally responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you, even when you are not. Everything that people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. Personalization leads to negative emotions of guilt, shame and feelings of failure.

You unrealistically hold other people or circumstances responsible for your pain, while ignoring aspects that you are responsible for. This usually doesn’t go very well with others, who will resent being scapegoated and pass the blame right back.

You have a list or ironclad rules about the way that things “should” be and how you and other people “should” act. This leads to feelings of guilt and frustration when the rules are broken, and situations don’t live up to high expectations.

Being right.
You feel as though you are continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any lengths to prove that you are right.

When a problem or new situation is encountered, you expect disaster. “What if” statements dominate your thoughts about situations. This is emotional reasoning and is not based on realistic appraisal of the situation.

Mind reading.
Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling towards you. These assumptions are a sign of poor communication skills and can lead to unwarranted negative feelings and interpersonal conflict.

Refuting irrational ideas and cognitive distortions can be an important way to alleviate unhealthy, negative emotions. When you learn to think about your problems in a constructive and realistic manner, you can change the way you feel.