“Thinking errors” or “cognitive distortions” are extremely common patterns of thinking that every single person engages in. Some of us engage in these distorted ways of thinking daily, while others may only find themselves doing this when stressed.
Thinking errors are completely normal and everyone has them but when they are too frequent or too intense, they can contribute to a problem such as depression or anxiety. They can also stand in the way of building better communication with your partner. I would like to introduce you to the 5 most common thinking errors:
- All-or-Nothing Thinking: The other name for this error is black and white thinking. This occurs when you see the things in extremes, not in between. They are either black or white, or good or bad. On a personal level this can be thinking “I am successful” or “I am a failure”, “I have a great marriage” or “I have a terrible marriage”.
- Emotional Reasoning: This error occurs when you feel an emotion so intense that you begin to act as if it’s true. For example, let’s pretend you have a fear of flying. The facts show us that flying is safer than driving but when you take your first step onto a plane, you may tell yourself, “I know this plane is going to crash”. Of course, the feeling is not based on any facts but if you feel strongly enough, it will start to seem true.
- Catastrophizing: This error occurs when you focus on the worst possible explanation rather than more likely explanations. For example, imagine you are waiting for your partner to come home from work, but they are 20 minutes late. You start thinking, “they must be in a car accident,” but in reality they are just stuck in traffic.
- Disqualifying the Positive: This occurs when you look at a situation with good and bad aspects but push the good aside and just focus on the bad. For instance, you received a performance review at your job. While four ratings said, “great job”, one rating suggests that your performance “needs improvement”. So, if you are disqualifying the positives when you look at the review as a whole, all you can see is the “needs improvement” comment and you forget all the other positive feedback you received.
- Mind Reading: Making assumptions are okay. We all make assumptions about other people’s thoughts, intentions and behaviors. However, not confirming your assumptions with the other person and jumping to conclusions is what makes it not okay. Imagine you call a friend and they didn’t answer. You assume that they are ignoring you and they didn’t want to talk to you. You are free to make this assumption but there is no possible way of knowing if your assumption is true without checking with your friend.
Other less common thinking errors are Overgeneralizing, Magnification or Minimization, Magical Thinking, Should Statements, Fortune Telling, Jumping to Conclusions, and Personalization. Once you know these distorted ways of thinking it gets easier to identify them in your daily interactions.
If you are having difficulty identifying which thinking errors you engage in frequently or if you are not sure how to work on them, please schedule an individual therapy session with me.
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