Finishing up our in-depth review of negative thinking traps, there are another five common traps that can hijack us into negative feedback loops if we are not prepared. Taking us to places that are unproductive and skewing the truth when in reality, the situation may be easily resolvable. Rounding up the last of the prominent negative thinking traps we can all fall for are: Catastrophizing, Jumping to Conclusions, Emotional Reasoning, Should Statements, and Personalization. Let’s briefly revisit these while also coming up with ways to reframe the thoughts into something more positive and encouraging.
This classic cognitive distortion has a nasty habit of snowballing our anxieties into some of our deepest fears. The mind can be powerful and emotionally manipulative. We can have a thought and feel an emotional resonance from it. Whether that is of a fond memory that makes us laugh or a thought of something tragic happening in the near future. If we aren’t prepared, then our anxiety response can hijack our cognitions, utilizing our imagination and creativity to conjure situations that feed off our fears.
An example: If I get a B on this test then I won’t get into college which means I will end up unemployed and soon after homeless!
Nothing like our minds to add some unnecessary pressure before a test. Following thoughts catastrophize and grow pulls us out from the moment, making it more difficult to engage in our executive functioning which is highly utilized for something like taking a test in the first place. A common way to tackle this distortion is through a reframe strategy aptly named de-catastrophizing where these questions are important to consider:
- What’s the worst that could happen?
- How likely is it that the worst would actually happen? (Is it probable or just possible?)
- What could I do to cope if the worst did occur?
- How often have I been right in the past when I predicted catastrophe?
Now let’s put it all together.
Positive Reframe: If I get a B or even a C, I know the teacher mentioned an opportunity for extra credit. I don’t believe I would do any worse after spending so much time studying, but if it did, I have my parents and friends to support me.
Jumping to Conclusions
Similar to catastrophizing in the way our minds move into the future is the unhelpful thinking style of jumping to conclusions. There are two categories to consider: Fortune Telling and Mind Reading. Fortune Telling involves predicting the future, which isn’t inherently a negative thing. After all, our brains are designed to plan and predict while at the same time conduct a risk assessment. The thinking trap comes when we find ourselves sure of this future prediction without leaving room for flexibility.
An Example: I’m going to mess up and make a fool of myself in front of everyone.
A mentality like this is sure to be discouraging. If the thought of failing is ruminated upon than avoidance might be a consideration, thus reinforcing the idea that we were not capable in that moment. Here’s a helpful reframe.
Positive Reframe: No matter what happens, I am going to try my best. Whatever happens afterwards I can deal with then.
For mind reading, this is when we jump to conclusions about what someone else is thinking which is another instance of buying into something that we can never truly know. It makes sense why this does happen. Socially, it may be important to consider what others think, but to assume that they are thinking negatively about us may lead us to feeling difficult emotions unnecessarily. Instead, it can be helpful to acknowledge the thought but put the breaks on outright believing it.
When feeling emotions, thoughts often appear through that lens. Makes sense, right? If we are feeling angry, we may have more aggressive or thoughts of aggravation. When we are feeling happy we may have thoughts about this being the best day ever. So, essentially, following the same guidelines as the other distortions, it may be to our benefit to take a step back after noticing negative thoughts accompanying negative emotions.
An Example: I’m feeling depressed and lonely. No one cares about me. I am truly alone.
In this example, it can be challenging to pull yourself away from commiserating with yourself, especially if your feelings are intense! That’s why reframing is a skill to build upon and at times takes trial and error.
Positive Reframe: It is hard to feel this way, maybe it is time for me to reach out to my friends.
A true classic when it comes to cognitive distortions and one that I consistently have to navigate through. When we tell ourselves that we should have done something or ought to, usually it is our mind’s way of retroactively problem solving, which could benefit us in the future. Thoughts like these due have a tendency to produce guilt however, so it is important to observe if we are going in circles with our past regrets verses being more productive.
An Example: I should have studied more, then I wouldn’t have gotten such a poor grade.
Positive Reframe: It is important moving forward to devote more time to my studies.
The final distortion to review can also carry the same effect as should statements in that in can produce unnecessary guilt. This thinking trap is when we find ourselves moving to take the blame for something when it may have had nothing to do with us. Conversely, this distortion may also do the opposite and deny any form of responsibility.
An Example: No one came to the play, probably because I’m not worth seeing on stage.
This distortion may be more common in those who identify with valuing other’s comfort and well-being. When things don’t go how we expect, our minds seek answers, and often ourselves are the easiest to blame.
Positive Reframe: While I wish more people would have came to the play, I am proud of everyone’s performance, myself included.
Identifying and Practicing
I want to stress again that just because we have thoughts that could lead us into negative thinking traps doesn’t mean our thinking is flawed. Thoughts are not inherently good or bad, they are just thoughts. With that perspective we are able to take more ownership over what we decide to do in those moments. Do we fall for a thought because it is emotionally charged, or do we resist the impulse, take a moment to observe before acting in our best interest.
Is this something you find yourself struggling with? Thought identification and thought reframing are cognitive behavioral strategies that one of our trained therapists at the Chicago Counseling Center can support you in developing. Contact us here for a free consultation to see if therapy is right for you.