Clients come to me for all kinds of reasons. Some are concerned about their love lives, finances, jobs, families, and health while others may want to connect with loved ones who have passed away. Mostly, people come for validation. Guides and angels often communicate information that we already know but just need to hear from someone else.
I have noticed, though, in all my communications with people throughout my life, that what causes most of our problems isn’t our lack of inner knowing but our thoughts. Our thoughts can mess us all up. They can cause us to not trust our own intuition, to be insecure about ourselves, our relationships, and our world, and to muddle communication.
These muddled thoughts are often called cognitive distortions in the mental health world. I, however, think of them as thinking traps because of how they can keep you stuck. Unfortunately, these thoughts also lead to depression if left unchecked.
I took the list of the top ten thinking traps and decided to add my own little spin to them. There are also some tips for overcoming these thoughts. This can be a challenging task, but it is well worth your time. The key to any change is awareness and acceptance. Be aware of who you really are, then accept it. If you can do those first two steps, you can then change the things you don’t like without beating yourself up.
All or Nothing
This is very black and white thinking. You may use the words ‘either’ and ‘or’ a lot to signify only two choices. If things don’t work out the way you planned, you think you failed. This thinking also involves how you see people around you. An example would be: “My father left when I was young, so he didn’t love me.” These thoughts don’t compensate for the complex nature of people or our lives.
This is when you view an event as a never ending pattern of events, even if it only happens once or twice. For example, saying, “Nothing good ever happens to me,” or “I’m so unlucky all the time.” It also happens when we use words like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘every time’, etc. Rarely does anything in our lives happen that consistently.
Dwelling on the Negatives
I think of this as a mental filter that blocks us from seeing the things that are actually working for us. For instance, if your boss at work is constantly frustrating you, you many only focus on that aspect of the job. You may not notice that you have a job that pays well or offers other incentives or benefits because of this one aspect you don’t enjoy. Another example is when we are only noticing the things that are going wrong for us instead of what is going right.
Discounting the Positives
This is about insisting that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count. For example, when someone gives you a compliment, you may think they were just being nice or they didn’t mean it. You may have a special talent or passion but only see all the things you can do better instead of honoring your gifts.
Jumping to Conclusions
There are two ways that these thoughts pop up. Mind Reading is assuming that people are acting negatively toward you without any evidence to suggest that it’s true. Fortune Telling is assuming things will turn out badly before you have even begun.
Notice that both of these types of thinking involving making assumptions.
Magnification or Minimization
Magnification involves blowing things out of proportion. Example: You lose your job, then think, “I will lose my house, my family, and all my saving because I’m out of a job.” You may be able to find another job quickly or use other resources but cannot see it because your thinking is so drastically blown out of proportion. On the other end of this spectrum is minimizing problems that have significance to trivial matters. Examples: “I only got one DUI, so it’s OK,” or if a partner leaves you, you tell yourself, “Oh, they’ll come back,” instead of dealing with the grief.
This thinking is using your emotions as a basis for deciding who you are or how you see the world around you. Example: “I feel stupid, so I must be.” Our feelings change from day to day based on a wide variety of factors so using them to determine who we are doesn’t really work.
‘Should’-ing yourself and others to death.
How many times do you tell yourself or others what you/they should do, say, feel, or think? How often do you listen to others’ ideas about what you should do, say, think, or feel? Maybe it isn’t the word ‘should’ that you use but instead ‘must’, ‘ought’, or ‘have to’. These are very judgmental thoughts and cause us to be incredibly hard on ourselves and others. Another part of this type of thinking includes comparing yourself to others.
Instead of just thinking that you made a mistake, you think, “I’m a jerk, a fool, an idiot,” or any other label. This also goes for how you see others as well.
Personalization or Blame
Sometimes we blame ourselves for circumstances that we have no control over or situations where we may not be entirely responsible for the outcome. On the other hand, blaming others for your circumstances and denying your own role in your problems can keep you stuck, too. Examples include: “It’s my fault my son was in that car accident,” or “If you would have told me about_____________, then I wouldn’t have done ____.”
Don’t expect to change overnight. It probably took you many years to get to this point and it won’t be resolved in a week or two.
Meditation or any form of slowing down or relaxing will help bring awareness to your thoughts.
Keep a journal. When you have a problem, write it down. Later, when you are in a calmer place, go back and look at the entry objectively to see if you have any of the thinking traps listed above.
Be mindful of how you talk to others and yourself. What types of words are you using?
When you catch yourself in a thinking trap, be a reporter and try to objectively see the situation from the standpoint of an observer.
Understand that feelings don’t create your thoughts, but thoughts create your feelings. Your thoughts determine how you will perceive a situation. It goes in this order: Thoughts lead to feelings which lead to actions.
Be proactive in your life. Act instead of Re-act. If there are situations that you have the power to change, do so. Even if you aren’t successful, it’s empowering to try.
If you are feeling stuck or depressed, seek help. There are many resources for counseling in your local cities or neighborhoods that are accessible.
Set goals. Then set smaller goals to reach those goals. Accomplishing the small steps can help you feel more confident.
Instead of saying ‘should’, ‘ought to’, ‘must’, or ‘have to’, try substituting the word ‘could’.