Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thinking: You're Doing it Wrong

Have you ever heard of "thinking errors"? It's a therapy term that captures the many and varied ways our ingrained thinking patterns lead us astray. This blog has a good synopsis of ten of them (I'm sure there are many more). Here are the ones he lists:
  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING – (Also called Black-and-White Thinking) Thinking of things in absolute terms, like “always,” “every,” or “never.”
  2. OVERGENERALIZATION – Taking isolated cases and using them to make wide generalizations.
  3. CATASTROPHIZING – (which he calls "Mental Filter") Focusing exclusively on certain, usually negative or upsetting, aspects of something while ignoring the rest.
  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE – Continually “shooting down” positive experiences for arbitrary, ad hoc reasons.
  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS – Assuming something negative where there is actually no evidence to support it.
  6. MAGNIFICATION and MINIMIZATION – Exaggerating negatives and understating positives. Often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negatives understated
  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING – Making decisions and arguments based on how you feel rather than objective reality.
  8. SHOULDING – (Necessity) Must, Can’t thinking. "Should"ing is focusing on what you can’t control.
  9. LABELING and MISLABELING – Related to overgeneralization, explaining by naming. Rather than describing the specific behavior, you assign a label to someone or yourself that puts them in absolute and unalterable negative terms.
  10. PERSONALIZATION and BLAME – Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control.
(Click over to his blog to get examples and ways to challenge these bad habits.)

One of the best therapists I've met specialized in behavioural therapy and she was able to listen attentively and with genuine concern and yet still nail you on faulty thought processes.

"Do you know what thinking error you just used?" she would ask, and you would replay what you'd just been saying until you realized, "Oh, yah, I totally disqualified the positive of my encounter with [ ___ ]."

My two handiest ones are black-and-white thinking and catastrophizing.
  • Black-and-White Thinking: When I am in the pits of depression, it is almost impossible to believe I could ever be anything other than depressed. The present moment expands until it fills my field of view. 
  • Catastrophizing: [I consider this akin to minimization, but not in the sense he uses minimization.] When Emily broke her arm, I found myself saying, "Oh, it could have been much worse!" Why would I leap to visions of Emily hurtling head-first into a tree, breaking her neck and dying? In doing so, I effectively undermined the appropriateness of Emily's reaction to the trauma.
This is Emily's arm in the temporary cast.
You can see the dip where the radius and ulna bones have snapped and are dipping in towards her waist.
It was a pretty serious break.
These are not innocuous little slips. They are habits that we've formed, in some cases because we learned them from others or they met an emotional need at a certain time. 

In my case, I learned the catastrophizing from my mother, who referred to my grandfather's abuse of me as "that little thing with Grampa," implying that I should just get over it already. (My own thinking error in that case was personalization: I thought I had "asked for" the abuse by being too needy and wanting to be Grampa's favourite grandchild.)

As for the black-and-white thinking, I tot that up to the disordered thinking of a mentally ill brain. And, well, that's why they call it an illness. It does help, I think, that I recognize what I'm doing, recognize that it is not healthy and I do something positive about it. 

What about you? Do you have a "favourite" thinking error that you find cropping up from time to time? 

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