Automatic negative thoughts are often related to thinking errors, that is, they are wrong assumptions that we make to accept something as true that is, in fact, false. There are 11 common types of thinking errors that we make. See if you can recognize your thoughts in any of these.
- Negative glasses – With negative glasses on, we only see the bad part of what is happening. Even when you have a good time or nice things happen, you find things that went wrong or were not good enough. You then only focus on these negative things, forgetting everything that was positive.
- Positive doesn’t count – You dismiss anything positive as unimportant or discredit it in some other way. For example, if someone agrees to be your friend, you think that they probably couldn’t get other friends.
- All-or-nothing thinking – You see everything in all-or-nothing terms. There is nothing in between. You hold yourself and others to an impossible expectation. If you fall even a little short, you believe you are a complete failure.
- Magnifying the negative – You tend to exaggerate the importance of things that happened, especially negative events. For example, “I forgot my words and everyone was laughing at me.”
- Snowballing – Here, a single event or upset quickly grows into a never-ending pattern of defeat. For example, not being picked for a team means that I am just not good at sports, schoolwork, nothing.
- The mind-reader – You think you know what everyone else is thinking, and it’s probably something bad about you, right? You can never know and assume what others are thinking unless they tell you.
- The fortune-teller – You think you know what will happen at a future event. “I know if I go out, I’ll be ignored.” Or, “I know I’m not going to be able to do this homework.” The bad thing is, when you believe something will happen in the future, it often does. Scientists call it a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” It only means that when you believe in something, you act in a way that makes it happen. So, why not believe in something positive instead!
- Emotional reasoning – Your emotions take over and because you feel bad, sad, or angry, you assume that everything else is negative too. Your unpleasant emotions drive your thoughts.
- Dustbin labels – You attach a label to yourself and view everything you do in this light. For example: “I’m a loser.” Or, “I’m hopeless. I’ll never account for anything.” “I’m unlovable.”
- Setting yourself up to fail – If your targets and expectations are too high you will never seem to achieve it and are just setting yourself up to fail. Your thoughts often start with “I should…,” “I must…,” “I shouldn’t…,” and “I can’t…” You chase after impossible targets and every time you fail, your negative thoughts become stronger.
- Blame me – Maybe you feel responsible for negative things that happen. Even when you have no control over them, you feel that you have something to do with their happening.
Do some of these thinking patterns sound familiar? Do you recognize yourself in some of them? Look back at the negative thoughts that you have written down two sessions ago (in Session 2). What types do you think they are? Do you believe that they are really true? Is there evidence to support them? Use the Thought Thermometer to rate how true you believe each is.
It is a good idea to keep a diary and write down negative thoughts as you become aware of them. Write what type you think they are, if you think they are true, or not, and why. What was the situation (in terms of what, where, when, and who)? What were your feelings at the time?