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Irrational Thoughts We All Have (and How to Change Them)

The idea that negative thoughts trigger negative feelings is beyond true. I’ve seen it play out in my own life and the lives of so many clients that I work with. It’s such a common thing that I discuss the power of irrational thoughts with every single one of my clients. These powerful mental messages impact our relationships, our self-esteem, and our overall well being like nothing else. Irrational thoughts are basically negative, pessimistic things that we tell ourselves that have little to no real evidence. Because our thoughts trigger our feelings which, in turn, tiger our behaviors, these thoughts can lead to two people having two distinct reactions to the same exact situation and can lead to depression and anxiety over time. There are quite a few different types of irrational thoughts, and the truth is, we all deal with a few of them at some point during the course of our lives:

We all have irrational thoughts and they can impact our relationships, self-esteem, and overall mental health. Labeling and dissecting these thoughts is the only way to change them.

Irrational Thoughts We All Have

Black or White Thinking: Black or white thinking involves viewing a person (it could be yourself) or situation as all bad or all good without allowing for any grey area. An example of this type of thinking would be telling yourself that you aren’t smart just because you fail one class or assignment when the truth might be that although you struggle in that subject, you excel in many other.

Exaggerating: This is one of the more self-explanatory types of distorted thoughts. When we exaggerate, we use words such as always, nothing, everything, or never inappropriately. We might find ourselves thinking that our significant others’ NEVER help around the house when, the truth of the matter is that although they may not help as much as we like, they do help sometimes.

Filtering: Have you ever told yourself that you have a bad life just because of one bad day? This is an example of filtering. Filtering involves ignoring the positive things that occur in our lives and accentuating the negative. It’s similar to black or white thinking in that there is no in between.

Catastrophizing: Like exaggerating, this is a type of thinking pattern that a lot of people are familiar with. When we catastrophize, we blow things out of proportion in a negative direction. I personally think that we women are more susceptible to this type of thinking than men (but don’t quote me on that!). An example of catastrophizing would be jumping to the conclusion that you’re going to get fired after getting a slap on the wrist for a mistake at work.

Judging: I wish we lived in a judgement free world, but unfortunately, we are all hardwired to judge ourselves and/or others. This irrational thought occurs when we are critical of ourselves or others and use terms such as should have, ought to, must, have to, or should not have. If you’ve had the thought “I should have worn the other outfit” after walking into a room and feeling under or over dress, you’re judging yourself.

Mind Reading: Who hasn’t heard the saying, “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me…” The basis of mind reading is making negative assumptions regarding someone’s thoughts or motives. When you assume that your  boyfriend didn’t call to say goodnight because he’s upset over something you said earlier, you’re mind reading. When you tell yourself that your boss looked over you for a promotion because she always liked your co-worked better anyway, you’re mind reading.

Self-Blaming: It can be hard not to blame ourselves when things go wrong. Self-blaming involves holding yourself responsible for something that was inevitably out of your control. Accidents happen, and anytime you’re involves in anytime of accidents and find fault, you’re likely self blaming. A dramatic example of this would be when a woman mentally tells herself that it’s her fault that her husband hit her because she provoked him. A more common example might be when you have a finder binder and tell yourself that it could have been avoided if you would have checked your blind spot just one more time before changing lanes.

How to Change Them

The first step to changing irrational thoughts is to label them and acknowledge them. When you put a name to them, it’s easier to catch yourself when they occur so that you can stop and ask, “was that thought completely rational?” Once you can identify these thinking patterns you can dissect them and look for evidence that proves that they might not be totally true. For example, if you have the thought that your husband never helps around the house (which is one that I’ve had and I’m sure a lot of other wives have had as well), you can stop and ask yourself, “am I exaggerating?” before you start an argument. At that point, you can think back and recognize that he maybe took out the trash just yesterday or helped you fold the laundry last week. The next step to challenging these faulty thoughts it is to replace them with more rational thoughts. In the example that I just used more realistic thoughts might be, “my husband helps with the housework when I ask,” or “my husband doesn’t help around the house as much as I need him to now that I’ve started my new job and am feeling overwhelmed.” I promise you that the conversation that you have with your husband (if we’re sticking to this example) is going to be quite different if you approach him with one of the rational thoughts as opposed to the distorted one. Labeling and dissecting irrational thoughts and replacing them with more rational ones is the only way to challenge them and will change your behaviors as a result. Although it takes time, you will notice that these negative thinking patterns occur less often once you’ve gotten in the habit of proving yourself wrong.

Which of these distorted thought types have you experienced before?

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