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Dysfunctional Thoughts


Here is a list of dysfunctional thoughts from Cognitive Therapy. Pioneered by Arron Beck, M.D., the basis premise from cognitive therapy is that our thoughts create our emotions and feelings.

As discussed on our emotions page, we have some concerns about this premise from the standpoint that emotions are basic and primal. However, in humans, there is no doubt that our thoughts can greatly influence our emotions.

You can read more about cognitive therapy, dysfunctional thoughts, and depression in Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated.

Countering dysfunctional thinking with rational (as in left brain) reasoning can be very helpful and effective for some clients. This approach can be especially effective for mood disorders of depression.

So here is a list of dysfunctional thoughts:

1. All-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. Example:  if your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a failure.

2. OVERGENRALIZATION: You interpret a single negative event as a non-ending pattern of defeat.

3. MENTAL FILTER: Picking out a single negative detail and dwell (obsess) on it, coloring all the positive details.

4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: Rejecting positive experiences and feedback, saying that they, “don’t count,” or putting yourself down.

5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: Making a negative interpretation even though there are no real facts that support your conclusions.

a. Mind Reading- You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and you do not bother to check it out.
b. The Fortune Teller Error- You anticipate something bad will happen and are convinced your prediction is already sealed.

6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: Exaggerating the importance of things, such as a goof-up or someone else’s accomplishment, or you inappropriately reduce the importance of your abilities or accomplishments.

7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: Assuming that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are: “I feel this way, therefore that must be the way things are.”

8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: Trying to motivate yourself with “should,” “must,” and “ought to” statements. Whipping or beating yourself up to try to force yourself to behave, think, or feel a certain way. This leads to feelings of guilt. When shoulds or ought’s are directed toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.

9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: An extreme form of overgeneralization, attaching a negative label to yourself or others. “I’m a loser.”

10. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause of some negative event when in reality, you had little to do with it. Taking responsibility for a negative event even though you are not responsible.
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