Common Thinking Errors Pathogenic Beliefs Basic Common Thinking Errors In terms of a more cognitive model, here is a list of some common thinking errors. If you are interested in learning more about cognitive challenges, it is helpful to become familiar with some of these items so you can catch your own thoughts and become more self-reflective. However, it is imperative to understand that it is not necessarily the belief itself but the interpersonal scenario that created the belief in the first place. It is sometimes impossible to change irrational beliefs unless you begin to unravel their deeper origins; i.e., where they come from and how they operate to protect you against dangers that perhaps, no longer exist. The only time this is NOT true is OCD. In OCD, the thoughts are NOT analyzable and the OCD can be viewed as a bully. The person is NOT their OCD. Nevertheless, working with a trained therapist who understands these differences and, understands the value of psychodynamic exploration, allows for greater character understanding and greater transformation and separates YOU from your OCD, if that is an issue. Power & Control: There are two ways you can distort your sense of power and control. You can see yourself as helpless and externally controlled, or as omnipotent and responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you. Fallacy of Fairness: You feel resentful because you think you know what is fair but other people won’t agree with you. Fairness is a subjective assessment of how much of what you expected, was provided by the other person. These expectations are often biased and self-serving, and each person gets locked into his or her own point of view. It is tempting to make assumptions about how things would change if people were only fair or really valued you. But the other person hardly ever sees it that way and you end up causing yourself a lot of pain. Example: “If he loved me, he’d do the dishes.” Blaming: You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem or reversal. The tacit premise of this distortion is that if anything goes wrong it must be somebody’s fault. Fallacy of Change: The only person you can change is yourself. It is a fallacy to believe that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough. As a consequence, you may attempt to influence other people by blaming, demanding, and withholding, Being Right: Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any lengths to demonstrate your rightness. The need to prove that your opinions and actions are correct can make you hard of hearing and thereby alienate those close to you. See if you can catch yourself “being right” during a disagreement with a significant other, then ask yourself: “Would I rather be right or happy?” Shoulds: You maintain rules about how you and other people should act. You get angry when other people break the rules and you feel guilty when you violate them. Examples: I should be able to find a quick solution to every problem. I should never feel hurt. I should always be happy and serene. I should know, understand, and foresee everything. I should be spontaneous AND I should control my feelings. I should love my children equally. I should never make mistakes. I should feel even — once I feel love I should always feel love. I should be totally self- reliant. I should assert myself AND I should never hurt anybody. I should never be tired or get sick Magnification: “Making a mountain out of a mole hill” is another name for appraising information as more important or valid than it really is. Catastrophizing: A special kind of magnification associated with anxiety disorders. A sign of catastrophizing is asking yourself a “what if. . .” question that you never answer. Example: “What if this headache means I have brain cancer?” The possibility for catastrophic thinking is limited only by the individual’s imagination. Minimization: Appraising information as less important or valid than it really is, for example, despite the many painful lessons to the contrary, problem drinkers and overeaters are often taken in by beliefs such as, “I’ll just have one, what harm could it do?” Emotional Reasoning: Using an emotional experience as evidence for the validity of the belief that gave rise to it, for example, “I feel guilty so I must have done something wrong,” “I feel anxious so the situation must be dangerous,” “I feel awkward and out of place so I guess I don’t really belong,” Polarized Thinking: Seeing things as black or white may be viewed as magnification and minimization taken to the extreme. Something is either ALL good or ALL bad and there is absolutely no middle ground. Example: You have to be perfect or you are a failure. Perfectionism: Setting unachievable standards for yourself, standards you would not expect others to meet. If your performance falls short of perfection, then you are a total failure. People are perfectionistic because they want very much to succeed, but sadly perfectionist tendencies inevitably hinder performance over the long run. Perfectionism can be particularly debilitating to individuals with low self-efficacy who are attempting to develop the skills to overcome a problem. Generalization: Basing a broad conclusion on a single incident is a common thinking error that can transform a single negative event into a never-ending pattern of defeat or misfortune. Words such as: always, or never or cues that you may be taken in by this distortion mechanism. Example: This always happens to me, or, I never get what I want. Labeling: Using a label to make the over-generalization stick. Example: I am a loser,” or, “He is an asshole.” Mind Reading: You are certain that you know what people are feeling or why they are acting the way they do. Examples: “They all think I’m a jerk.” Fortune Telling: You are certain that your predictions about the future are valid. Examples: “I know I’ll blow the interview.” Why Questions: Some questions such as: “Why is there pain?” cannot be answered. Sadly, the failure of an answer to pop into your mind is interpreted as meaningful. Note how these “Why questions” sabotage a person’s attempt to manage her weight: “That dessert looks good. Why not?” And then later, “I know that cheating on these diets causes me to fail and be miserable; Why do I let myself do it?” The failure to answer the first question is interpreted as permission to lapse. Because she cannot answer the second question, the individual concludes that the cause of failure is within and is not likely to change [internal, stable attribution for failure]. Personalization: Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. Examples: A man whose wife complains about rising prices hears the complaints as attacks on his abilities as a breadwinner. Compare and Despair: A major aspect of personalization is the habit of continually comparing yourself to other people. The opportunities for comparison never end. The underlying assumption is that your worth is questionable, and so you continue to test your value as a person by measuring yourself against others. Examples: “I’m not smart enough to go with this crowd,” “They listen to her but not to me.” Cognitive Behavior Therapy [CBT] is a practical and effective strategy to help with anxiety and depressive disorders and consciously correct the pathogenic beliefs. However, working with a therapist who has an understanding of CBT along with psychodynamic exploration allows for deeper understanding and transformation. It is not necessarily the belief itself but the interpersonal scenario that created the belief in the first place that is far more important to understand. The broader understanding leads to more lasting characterological change.