Cognitive Behavioural Therapy believes that we often feel anxious, upset or distressed because of certain common errors in our thinking. These are maladaptive ways of looking at life which are automatic – and therefore subconscious. However, if we can stop … identify … and challenge our thinking … then it’s likely that our feelings will change as well. This can lead to a happier and more balanced life.
The 11 common errors in thinking include:
1. All –or – Nothing Thinking: This is where the person evaluates themselves, other people, and the world in black and white terms. Thus, it doesn’t allow for grey areas in thinking. An example of this is “I’m a terrible friend.”
2. Overgeneralizing: This is thinking that because a bad experience happened once, then it’s likely to always be that way in the future. For example, “I know I’m going to fail my driving test as I taken and failed it once before”.
3. Discounting the Positives: This is ignoring the positives and saying they don’t count. For example, generally doing well in your tests and exams – but not really crediting yourself for that. Then when you get a lower mark on one your assignments you tell yourself that proves you are a useless student – and the previous positive marks are all ignored.
4. Jumping to Conclusions -This has two aspects to it: mind reading and fortune telling.
(i) Mind reading is thinking you can tell what other people think without any evidence of what’s in their minds. For example, a person who struggles with anxiety assumes her colleagues think she’s useless at her job.
(ii) Fortune telling is predicting that the future will turn out badly – even when you’ve no real reason to reach that conclusion. For example, going for a routine mammogram and concluding the results are going to show that you have cancer.
5. Magnifying / Minimising: This is evaluating the importance of a negative event, or the lack of evidence of a positive event, in an extreme or distorted way. (Blowing things out of proportion.) For example, concluding that your sister doesn’t like you anymore because she forgot to send a birthday card this year.
6. Emotional Reasoning: This is firmly believing that something is true – simply based on your feelings that it must be true. For example, when your boyfriend arrives an hour late for a film, you conclude that means he isn’t interested in you. You discount the fact that the traffic might be heavy and he’s actually been sitting in a traffic jam.
7. Labelling: This is using a label in broad global terms. For example, a friend says or does something thoughtless to you - so you label that person as “a terrible friend”. You then interpret everything they say or do in the future from this harsh, unforgiving, and negative perspective.
8. Personalization and blame: This is where a person completely blames themselves for something that’s gone wrong - when it is not their fault. For example, a soccer team member thinks the coach is upset because she missed an important goal. She discounts the fact he may have been annoyed before he even arrived for the game.
The opposite is going to the other extreme and completely putting the blame on someone else. For example, a wife may blame her husband for the breakup of their marriage and not be willing to admit she played a role.
9. Catastrophizing (Similar to fortune telling): This is dwelling on the worst outcome possible. For example, an employee had to do a presentation at work and became obsessed with it being a flop. He then started to worry that he’d lose his job … and that would lead to him living on the streets.
10. Making “should” or “must” statements: This is where the person has fixed ideas of how they, others, and life should be. These are then turned into fixed and rigid demands. Thus, when the person’s disappointed (which inevitably happens) they over-react, and get extremely upset. For example, a student falls apart when they get less than 90 – as they think all their scores should be close to 100.
11. Selective abstraction: This is dwelling on one negative comment or detail - instead of looking at the bigger picture. For example, a girl gets a haircut which her friends say they love. However, one person says that they preferred her old style. She then thinks about that comment for hours and hours – despite being complimented by her other friends.