Common Thinking Traps

CBT and other Cognitive based therapies are highly regarded and wholly scientific approaches used to help people change their thinking “styles” and therefore change how they feel!

Yes, you did read that correctly, if you can change your “thinking” then you CAN change the emotions or the behaviours that result from these thoughts.

There are a number of common “thinking traps” that people use, often without realising it, that are particularly unhelpful.

We’d just like to share a few of these with you here so that you can identify, and perhaps modify them, in order to be more in control of how you feel.

Common Thinking Traps

The 8 Most Common Thinking Traps

Thinking Trap # 1 – Catastrophising

I can’t find my wallet … oh no! I must have dropped it in the Supermarket … somebody has bound to have found it and kept it … they’ll use my cards and empty my bank account … how am I going to pay my bills this month? … how will I pay my Mortgage? … the house is bound to be re-possessed and then my wife will leave me … how can I have been so stupid!

People who Catastrophise rarely take into account the “actual” situation and also give themselves very little credit for their own ability to cope with these scenarios, but challenging these types of thoughts by comparing how they ACTUALLY coped with a previous difficult situation can often provide a more realistic appraisal of the situation and help with coping with similar situations in the future.

Thinking Trap # 2 – Generalisation

Things always go wrong for me … I never win at anything … Everyone hates me …  There’s no way I can overcome Anxiety.

If you want to determine if you, or somebody you know, falls into this trap of generalising, then just listen to your, or their language patterns.

The language used by people prone to generalisation tends to use absolute terms such as “never”, “always”, “everyone”, “no one” and so on.

The key to stop generalising is to examine the statements that you make in these terms and see if they are true – when my clients come to talk to me in the clinic and tell me that “they are afraid of absolutely everything” I normally ask them something like; “..are you afraid of my bookcase then?” to which they normally reply; “of course not”! (Not everything then)

Thinking Trap # 3 – Mind Reading

He thinks I’m an idiot … she’d never believe what I said  … I know what they’ll think of me if I dared to say that

Whilst we make many assumptions about other people and their intentions based on how they may have behaved towards us in the past, (which is reasonable) we often jump to conclusions about the motives of others with very little hard evidence.

We clearly have no actual ability to read another persons thoughts and by making these kind of assumptions we leave ourselves wide open to misunderstandings and our own “paranoid projections”.

The only way we truly know what another person is thinking is if they CHOOSE to tell us.

Thinking Trap # 4 – Polarised or Rigid Thinking

It’s either right or wrong … You win or you lose … I either feel fantastic or I feel dreadful … If it’s not the best then it’s rubbish and not worth having

We encounter this type of thinking in our clinic all of the time and it is often known as “black or white” thinking.

People who think in these “only one of two” options style create endless problems for themselves psychologically, because in reality, there are literally endless variations in-between those two opposites.

For example, if you are not thin, then you must be fat.

But this obviously can’t be true as almost every single person in the UK will weigh a different amount, have a different shape and will fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

We often encounter this thinking trap wrapped up in what is called “perfectionism” – “if it’s not perfect it’s not worth doing”.

This is rigid thinking and leaves a person who uses this style very few places “to go” cognitively!

Thinking Trap # 5 – Emotional Reasoning

I feel so guilty … I must have done something really bad   I feel scared … something really awful must be about to happen

Our emotions are notoriously bad at accurately predicting the reality of a situation we experience.

The majority of the time it is actually our thoughts that trigger an emotion*, but when we feel any particular emotion we invariably try to work out what it is outside of us (in the environment) that has led to this feeling.

*there are some emotions that are triggered by completely unconscious processes that have become “hard-wired” over the years.

Try to set aside your feelings and examine the hard evidence around you when experiencing this particular trap.

Thinking Trap # 6 – Blaming

It’s all YOUR fault

Blame is, on the whole, a completely counterproductive “pastime” that disengages a person from using problem solving methods or techniques.

If your life is “crap” and hasn’t turned out the way that you wanted it or expected it to, then blaming everybody else or other factors you think are to blame, leaves you feeling helpless and less inclined to try to do anything about it!

In most cases, blame leads directly into “cognitive dead-ends” which give rise to a set of destructive emotions such as Resentment, Bitterness, Hatred and Anger.

At the opposite end of the scale are those people who spend almost all of the time blaming themselves and eroding any remnants of self-esteem that they might have otherwise had.

This is a thinking style that crops up frequently with people suffering OCD.

The emotion most commonly associated with the blame thinking trap is Guilt.

Thinking Trap # 7 – Filtering & Magnifying

There you go! It’s turned out exactly as I thought it would!

Filtering occurs when we only pay attention to the evidence or information that fits in with our preconceptions (known as confirmation-bias) and leads us to form conclusions based on just a fragment of the actual information or evidence available.

Magnifying is what we do when we overly exaggerate the frequency or importance of events that fit in with our beliefs.

Imagine being asked by your best mate to be his best man at his up-coming wedding – which comes along with making that “speech” that you believe you will be absolutely terrible at.

The big day comes along, you’re all prepared and half-way through the speech the microphone cuts out leaving you talking to yourself!

If you have a particularly low opinion of your abilities, or have a low self-esteem, then you are probably going to conclude that the whole thing should have been left to somebody more capable than you and “There you go! It turned out be be disaster exactly as I thought it would”.

Despite your best friends protestations that “it all went brilliantly and the microphone cutting out was hilarious and a highlight of the afternoon” if you are prone to filtering and magnifying you are likely to focus only on the elements of the situation that you believe prove just how useless you really are.

Try to listen to how others saw it and evaluate the facts with a greater level of “perspective”.

Thinking Trap # 8 – Emotive Language

It would be a complete disaster if they didn’t like it!

We build our cognitive model (the way we “see” the world) using language as the building blocks.

Words have a deeply embedded emotional resonance for us and can completely colour our thinking.

The choice of words that we use, either to communicate with others, or as part of our “internal” dialogue (our own “inner” voice”) can have a strong impact on our emotional responses.

When helping sufferers of “Emetophobia” (Fear of Vomiting) we frequently encounter emotive language.

I often hear Emetophobes say that “people will think that I am DISGUSTING if I was sick in view of them”.

Other example include things such as:

” I would just DIE if they saw me looking like this”

“If the dinner party doesn’t go perfectly it will be a DISASTER

Using language like this “invokes” both the original emotion feeling associated with the word in our brains, as well as creating a more “loaded” emotional experience.

Try to be more mindful of the language you use as it can have a direct effect on the way that you feel!

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If you’d like to find out more about overcoming or recovering from any of your mental health problems then why not arrange a free initial consultation with us.

During this consultation we will discuss your particular issues and the different types of mental health counselling we offer (including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – CBT) without you having to commit to any counselling going forward.

The consultation lasts around 50 minutes and is a great opportunity to meet with either Paul or Joan and decide if you would like to proceed with any support.