What are unhelpful thinking styles?

When we experience unhelpful emotions like depression or anxiety it is often followed by unhelpful thoughts.  There is usually a theme to these unhelpful thoughts and we call them unhelpful thinking styles.  Unhelpful thoughts are usually an automatic reaction to something but if they happen on an ongoing basis, they can sometimes cause us distress.  It is good to be aware of the different unhelpful thinking styles and know that something can be done about them if they need changing.

Selective Abstraction: Also known as mental filtering, is when we remember an event but we don’t focus on the whole picture.  Mental filtering occurs because this is how are brains store information.  When someone is depressed researched has shown that they then to focus on the negatives, whilst forgetting the positive aspects.
Jumping to Conclusions: This is when we assume a conclusion but we don’t have any evidence to support our conclusion.  There are 2 ways we often jump to conclusion, such as mind reading(we assume we know what someone else is thinking or why they are behaving a certain way) and predictive thinking (we predict that something is going to happen) which is a common way of increasing anxiety and stress.
Personalisation: When you blame yourself 100 % for something that has happened, forgetting that there were other things that influenced the outcome.
Catastrophising: This is when you blow things out of proportion even though the reality of something happening or the problem is quite small.
Black and White Thinking:Also known as “All or Nothing” thinking where you tend to see only one extreme or the other and there is no in between.
Shoulds and Musts: Is when you say I ‘should’ or ‘must’ do something but it becomes unhelpful when you put unrealistic pressure or demands on yourself.
Overgeneralisation: This is when you take one situation and think that all future situations are going to be the same.
Labelling: This is similar to overgeneralisation where you define for example a person by one specific behaviour which is usually negative and forget the positive attributes.
Emotional Reasoning: This is where you base your view of situations, yourself or others on the way you are feeling.  For example, you feel anxious that something is going to happen but there is no other evidence to suggest that it will happen.
Magnification and Minimisation: This is when you enlarge the attributes of someone and minimise your own attributes.


How to challenge unhelpful thinking styles?

After reading the above list of unhelpful thinking styles I am sure some of them are familiar to you, which is normal.  When an unhelpful thinking style impacts on your day activities or wellbeing, then it might be worth challenging your unhelpful thinking style by;

  • Being aware
  • Identifying positive thoughts
  • Sometimes a negative thought can be true but try reframing the thought to make it more positive.
  • Try challenging the unhelpful thought by asking yourself these questions, writing down your answers can also help give you a visual perspective of the situation.
  1. Name a situation where you used an unhelpful thinking style?
  2. What were the thoughts you were having?
  3. What feelings did you experience as a consequence to your thinking?
  4. What evidence is there to support your thought?
  5. What are the positives and negatives to the situation?
  6. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  7. Who would you be without the thought?
  8. What would be more helpful thought I could have?

Written by;

Kimberley Aguet

Virtual Psychologist

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