What is faulty thinking – and how can it make you unhappy? Loganholme Psychologist Greta Neilsen explains …
We can trace much of the distress we experience in our daily lives to rigid, inflexible thinking. Many of us think in ways that are irrational and self-defeating which create upsetting emotions such as inappropriate anger, frustration, anxiety, depression or feelings of worthlessness (2).
A thought or belief is considered irrational if it interferes with our ability to enjoy good health and a long life by causing us to engage in self-defeating behaviours such as social avoidance, aggression, procrastination and neglecting our physical health.
Some common irrational beliefs are listed below:
Categories of Faulty Thinking
“Shoulds” and “Musts” – Using critical words like “should”, “must” or “ought” can make us feel guilty, or like we have already failed eg “I should never make mistakes”. Applying “shoulds” to other people can also result in frustration and anger eg “Other people should always do the ‘right’ thing”.
Black and White Thinking – The tendency to see things in a polarised way without recognising a middle ground, so that things are either “all good” or “all bad” eg “If it is not perfect, I have failed”.
Over-generalising – Seeing a pattern based upon a single event, or being overly broad in the conclusions we draw eg “bad things always happen to me”.
Mental Filter – Only paying attention to certain types of evidence, usually that which supports our negative beliefs eg when we focus on our failures and disregard our successes.
Disqualifying the Positive – Discounting the good things that have happened or that you have done eg “That doesn’t count, I was just lucky” or “it is just what anyone would do”.
Jumping to Conclusions – These can be broken down into 2 main types:
- Mindreading – imagining that we know what others are thinking eg “S/he thinks I’m stupid”;
- Fortune Telling – predicting the future eg “It won’t work out in the end anyway”.
Catasrophising – Blowing things out of proportion and jumping to the worst case scenario eg “If I don’t get this report right, I’ll lose my job, then go bankrupt and lose my house and end up on the street”.
Emotional Reasoning – Assuming that because we feel a certain way, what we think must be true eg “I feel embarrassed, so I must be an idiot”.
Labelling – Assigning a label to ourselves or other people eg “I’m a loser”, “They’re an idiot”.
Personalisation – Blaming yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn’t completely your fault, or assuming that other people’s responses are directed at us eg “It was my fault my friend didn’t seem to have a good time at my party”, or “My friend didn’t say hello to me when I waved from across the street, s/he must be mad with me”.
Just World Fallacy – The expectation that everything in the world should be balanced and fair eg “I have always worked really hard in this job, it is not fair that they are treating me this way”.
Hindsight Vision – Telling ourselves that we should have known in the past when we made a decision that it was wrong and would make us unhappy, and that if we had done things differently, we would be much happier now eg “I always knew s/he would let me down eventually. I shouldn’t have gone out with him/her in the first place”.
How can I stop faulty thinking from making me unhappy?
First of all, it is useful to identify your own thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your distressing emotions and/or self-defeating behaviours.
Once these have been identified, you can learn to dispute the negative cognitions, and identify healthier cognitive styles. There are many books and internet resources available that can assist in this process. Also, working with a therapist can help coach you through the process and assist you to challenge your negative thinking and develop healthier alternative beliefs.
If you are interested in finding out more about this, and how a therapist may help, I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Greta Neilsen has a wealth of experience in the treatment of depression and anxiety in adults of all ages, and endeavours to provide her clients with a safe space to understand the challenges they face, as they develop ways to overcome their difficulties.
To make an appointment with Loganholme Psychologist Greta Neilsen, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.
- Burns, D. (1980). Feeling good: the new mood therapy. New York: Morrow
- Ellis, Albert (2001). Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. New York: Prometheus Books.
- Endelman, S. (2013). Change Your Thinking, 3rd Edition. Sydney: Harper Collins.