5 Toxic Ways of Thinking that are Destroying your Mental Health
The way we think is mainly based on our life experiences, and more importantly, how we interpret those events. In other words, it’s not what happens that leads us to a certain way of thinking, it’s how we view the situation at hand.
For example, if I were to get fired from my job, which led to me doubting my own intelligence, it isn’t the fact that I got fired which made me think this way, it’s more so the way I view being fired. Such as “I must be stupid because I got fired.” Someone else could have the exact same experience and have a completely different thought; they might see being fired as a sign that this particular job just isn’t a good fit and it says nothing about them as a person.
There are many damaging ways a person can think. Below are some of the most common negative thinking patterns:
- Mind reading– This thinking style is especially damaging because our imaginations often get the best of us. And to add insult to injury, we don’t realize that it is our imagination which is causing us to see things the way we do when we mind-read. Example: ” my husband is being quiet because he’s mad at me.” While this may be true, it could also mean that he had a bad day at work or that nothing is wrong at all and he’s relaxing.
- Black-or-white thinking– This is a this-or-that, black-or-white with no grey area thinking style. This type of thinking can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and disagreements because there is no middle ground or compromise it’s just one or the other. Example: Believing either your success or a failure, as if life doesn’t have its ups and downs. Thinking in this way can be very damaging to your self-esteem. When you’re down and beating yourself up or going through tough times, it’s easy to only pay attention to the things that confirm your negative feelings about the situation. Things are rarely black-or-white. Virtually every situation has several variables. So it’s in your best interest to look the situation in its entirety rather than in a black-or-white this-or-that way.
- Control fallacies– Basically, a control fallacy is having an unrealistic expectation of control over various things in your life. Example: believing that you some can do something about situations that are out of your control, such as the way people think about you, or believing that everything that happens to you is your fault. It is also a control fallacy to believe nothing that happens to you is ever your fault.
- Emotional reasoning– This is the “if I believe it’s true then it must be true.” This is that “I feel like you’re a liar so you are a liar” or feeling like your emotions trump logic– this is especially true in situations where there is an objective answer or solution. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes emotions do trump logic in situations such as understanding your spouse’s feelings about you forgetting your marriage anniversary, or understanding someone’s choice to pursue their dream career over a stable job.
- Over-personalization– you make things personal when they aren’t. You think that everything that people do/say is a reaction to you or because of you. Truthfully, nothing that others do is because of you. People behave in the way that they do because of their own interpretation of reality. That is to say, people base their thoughts and reactions off of things that are happening (or have happened) in their life, which has very little to do with you on a personal level. So next time you notice that your coworker has a little attitude, don’t be so quick to think it’s because you’re annoying or have somehow done something to offend her. Remember, chances are it’s something going on in her personal life–whether it be in her past or present–that causes her to act that way. What people do to you always says more about them than it does about you!
There are many ways to deal without these types of thoughts. For starters, work on locating the source of the thinking error, then look for evidence that contradicts the thought. For instance, you may think in black-or-white ways when your friend doesn’t answer your phone call and say that they’re “acting funny” just because they didn’t answer. Although that may be true, it’s still a black-or-white style of thinking because it doesn’t consider the reasons as to why they didn’t answer. Maybe they were sleeping, or at work, or otherwise unavailable at the moment, but you just went against the grain and assumed they were being intentionally shady, without considering the potential grey area of the situation. Thinking errors always contain a negative bias, as it’s much easier to think in negative ways than it is to really dig deep and analyze the situation and alternate explanations for the negative thoughts.