Sonya Thomas lcsw

The Intersection of Distorted Thinking and Mood

Anxiety and depression can result from and also contribute to distorted thinking.  This, in turn, effects how we show up in our relationships.  There is a chicken and egg quality to the way our thinking intersects with mood/mental states.   We may have a tendency to adopt distorted thinking, which in turn contributes to anxiety and depression. Or, we may be feeling anxious or depressed, which contributes to our distorted thinking.  Can you identify any of the below examples of distorted thinking in yourself?  If so, how are you and your relationships being served by holding on to these?

  • Filtering  – You filter out all the positive aspects of a situation while taking the negative details of a situation and magnifying them.
  • Polarized Thinking  – Things are black or white, good or bad.  You have to be perfect or a failure; there is no middle ground.
  • Overgeneralization – You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of information or evidence.  If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen again and again.
  • Mind Reading – Without their saying so, you think you know what people are thinking or feeling and why they act the way they do.  In particular, you are able to divine how people feel about you.
  • Catastrophizing  – You expect disaster.  When you hear about or notice a problem or tragedy that others are experiencing, you begin to think “what if it happens to me”.
  • Personalization – You think that everything that others do or say is some kind of reaction to you.  You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who is smarter, prettier, more successful, etc.
  • Control Fallacies – If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate.  Also, the fallacy of internal control has you believing you are in control of or responsible for the pain or happiness of those around you.
  • Fallacy of Fairness – You believe the world and everything that happens in it should be fair.  You feel resentful when you experience something as unfair.
  • Fallacy of Change – You believe that your only hope for happiness is contingent on others changing.  You believe that if you pressure, control or manipulate them enough, they will change and you will then be happy.
  • Blaming  – You hold other people responsible for your pain, or you take the other tact and blame yourself for every problem that exists in your life or the lives of others.
  • Shoulds – You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and/or others should act.  People who break your rules anger you, or you become angry and critical of yourself if you break one of your rules.
  • Emotional Reasoning  – You believe that what you feel must automatically be true; if you feel stupid and boring, then it MUST be true that you are stupid and boring.
  • Being Right – You try to prove that your opinions and actions are correct.  Being “wrong” is unthinkable and you go to great lengths to prove that you are “right”.
  • The Fallacy of Heaven’s Reward – You expect all of your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score.  You feel bitter when the reward does not come.

We all engage in distorted thinking at some point and to some degree; it seems to be part of the human condition.  We are particularly vulnerable when under stress.  However, if you find that you or your relationships are suffering to a marked degree because of distorted thinking,  it may be helpful to work with a trusted friend, spiritual advisor or therapist to get a handle on this before more pain is endured or damage is done.