Everyone has negative thoughts from time to time. When those thoughts become a pattern of thinking, they will quickly hurt your moods and change your behaviors. These thinking traps or cognitive distortions are usually inaccurate as well.
We call these thinking traps because they can be easy to fall into and hard to escape. Nearly anyone can start having these negative thought processes, and existing depression or anxiety increases the chances. Once you are thinking this way, the negative thoughts tend to reinforce each other unless you make a conscious effort to break free from them.
Types of Thinking Traps
Thinking traps are common and psychologists have identified several different types. Some of the most common ones that people experience are:
- Black or White Thinking – This is the idea that a circumstance is all good or all bad, leaving no room for grey areas. It is also known as all or nothing thinking. Strong emotion words might be a sign of this type of thinking.
- Overgeneralizing – Overgeneralizing occurs if you use one or two negative experiences to make a sweeping generalization that negative things are always happening to you. “Always” and “never” come up a lot in overgeneralization.
- Personalization – With this way of thinking, you believe others’ words and actions are in direct response to you and that any problems are your fault and responsibility. Taking blame when there are outside factors is often personalization.
- Mind Reading – Mind readers think they know what people are thinking about them, and assume it is negative. If you find yourself jumping to conclusions about what people are thinking without them saying anything similar, you might be in this thinking trap.
- Catastrophizing – Catastrophizing involves imagining the worst possible outcome happening despite it being unlikely. Those who catastrophize often relate one mistake or failure to a list of future failures.
Getting out of a destructive thinking trap requires recognizing that you are in one. When you can name your negative thoughts as a cognitive distortion, you can challenge yourself each time you notice one. Focusing on rewording the thought in your mind to a more accurate interpretation can help you start a habit of more positive thinking.
In psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be useful for helping you abandon negative thoughts. This is a therapy modality that looks at the relationship between moods, thoughts, and behaviors and how altering one can change the other two.