Written by: Robert R. Cassman, LPCC
Destructive thinking patterns are those styles of thinking we all use from time to time that are unhealthy. These patterns are usually inaccurate and unintentionally lead to unpleasant emotions. Learning to recognize these patterns is the first step in challenging these patterns and have a healthier emotional life.
All-or-nothing thinking: This pattern has also been referred to as a”polarized thinking” because the person is thinking in the extremes. There is no grey area for this person. You are either the best friend or the worst enemy. This person will label everything as “all good” or “all bad.” This applies to themselves as they may say “I’m awesome” and later say “I’m a total failure.”
Overgeneralizing: The person who overgeneralizes takes one incident and applies or generalizes it to everything in life. If a student gets a bad grade on a test he may say “see, I can NEVER get good grades.” One bad event is used to apply to everything.
Mental Filter: If I give my friend three positive compliments and one negative comment, and she only remembers the negative comment, she is engaging in “mental filter.” If we only focus on the negative in our life then we are filtering out anything good. Mental filtering blocks the good from being believed.
Discounting the positive: Similar to mental filter, this person will make excuses for anything positive. If this person gets a good grade she may say “well I got lucky.” If a parent gives a compliment she may say “you’re my mom, you’re supposed to say nice things.” Because she already believes negatively about her life, she has to explain away anything positive.
Jumping to conclusions: When we emotionally react to something that hasn’t happened yet, then we are jumping to conclusions. Sometimes we engage in “mind reading” in which we think we know what someone else thinks about us. Or we “fortune tell” in which we get anxious of something that may or may not happen. Just because the boss wants to talk with me does not mean that I am in trouble. But if I engaged in jumping to conclusions I may get anxious and overwhelmed before I even find out what he wanted.
It is important to remember that everyone engages in these patterns from time to time. Using these unhealthy thinking patterns does not mean you are crazy. But knowing your habits can help to challenge them. That, in turn, can help you to think healthier and feel healthier.
For more on this topic, read my article It’s the Thought that Counts.