Unhelpful Thinking Habits

For a while now I’ve had a piece of paper blutaced to my wardrobe that I was given by a counsellor way back in November. When she gave it to me it made me cry – I related to the vast majority of the things on the list. As time’s gone on this piece of paper has become slowly ignored and just been something which was just in the corner of my eye, because I haven’t needed to see a piece of paper to know that my of thinking is slightly warped. But now I’ve decided to take it down, replacing it with happy little cards and postcards instead – things that I actually like looking at. However, there is the possibility that one day I’ll slip back into my old unhelpful thinking habits and need this paper again so, as is the case with many things which I want to keep shelved away somewhere for easy access later, I’m putting it hear in my little online bubble.

Over the years, we tend to get into unhelpful thinking habits such as those described below. We might favour some over others, and there might be some that seem far too familiar. Once you can identify your unhelpful thinking styles, you can start to notice them – they very often occur just before and during distressing situations. Once you can notice them, then that can help you to challenge or distance yourself from those thoughts, and see the situation in a different and more helpful way.

Mental filter – When we notice only what the filter wants or allows us to notice, and we dismiss anything that doesn’t ‘fit’. Like looking through dark blinkers or ‘gloomy specs’, or only catching the negative stuff in our ‘kitchen strainers’ whilst anything more positive or realistic is dismissed.

Judgements – Making evaluations or judgements about events, ourselves, others, or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for.

Mind-reading – Assuming we know what others are thinking (usually about us).

Emotional reasoning – I feel bad so it much be bad! I feel anxious, so I must be in danger.

Prediction – Believing we know what’s going to happen in the future.

Mountains and molehills – Exaggerating the risk of danger, or the negatives. Minimising the odds of how things are most likely to turn out, or minimising positives.

Compare and despair – Seeing only the good and positive aspects in others, and comparing ourselves negatively against them.

Catastrophising – Imagining and believing that the worst possible thing will happen.

Critical self – Putting ourselves down, self-criticism, blaming ourselves for events of situations that are not (totally) our responsibility.

Black and white thinking – Believing that something or someone can be only good or bad, right or wrong, rather than anything inbetween or ‘shades of grey’.

Shoulds and musts – Thinking or saying ‘I should’ (or shouldn’t) and ‘I must’ puts pressure on ourselves, and sets up unrealistic expectations.

Memories – Current situations and events can trigger upsetting memories, leading us to believe that the danger is here and now, rather than in the past, causing us distress right now.


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