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Understanding Your Thoughts


Your thoughts - your thinking - that’s the problem. When you learn how to control your thoughts you will be able to control and manage the way you feel. However, before you can control your thoughts you (and I) must first learn to recognize our patterns of distorted thinking. When we can recognize or see these "distorted thoughts" we can begin to learn how to unravel them and replace them with the Truth. Listed below are what many psychologists call “cognitive distortions.” I have tried to include some examples so that you will be able to see more clearly how and where some of these may apply to your thought process.

Examine each of them and learn to become aware of any of these patterns in your day to day walk. Where you can see distorted thinking, you will be able to learn to step outside of those thoughts greatly reducing your stress.

If in your journey you come across something that bothers you, refer to the “Misbelief/Truth” link and run your thoughts through the worksheet provided. Soon you will find a new and wonderful meaning in the phrase “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.


1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You tend to see things in black-and-white, right or wrong, good or bad with no “shades of gray.” You either love or hate something and see everything in terms of one extreme or the other; there is no in-between. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

Example: Jimmy was shaking and sobbing, his head buried deep in his hands. “I’ve failed, I’m just no good at Geometry. I’ve totally blown the test and my semester is ruined. I might as well give up!” Sara took the test paper from Jimmy and after reading the score remarked “Jimmy, you got a B plus. That is one the best grades in the whole class”.

Explanation: It would have been a heathier response if Jimmy had reacted a little more like this: “I got a B plus on my test. I was working hard and hoping for an A plus, but a B plus is pretty good too.”

2.. CATASTROPHIZING: You view everything as a catastrophe. Again, like the “all or nothing” thinking, you see no “shades of gray”. You exaggerate or magnify the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement) Catastrophizing paralyzes your action. You fear the worst, so you won’t make a move. - You develop a "cough" and are convinced that it is Lung Cancer.

Example: Sandra had just found out that Ben did not want to go with her to the High School Dance. “This is the end of the world” she exclaimed, “I’ll never ask another boy out again, ever.”

Example B: Bill, after finding out that the lead trumpet player in his college stage band wouldn’t be able to make the performance that night shouted, “That’s it! We can’t go on tonight. The whole performance will be terrible without our lead trumpet player. We must cancel the show.”

3. MINIMIZING: This distortion is almost the reverse of catastrophizing. You shrink things until they are way out-of-wack with reality. (Like your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). You downplay a situation, depending on your needs rather than the reality. Or, you insult someone and minimize the effect by saying “I was only kidding.”

4. MIND READING: You really believe that you know what another person is thinking without knowing the definite facts and you don’t bother to check it out.

Example: “I know I won’t get the promotion. My boss and my co-workers really don’t like me very much.”

5. FORTUNE TELLING. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.

Example: “I know what these clouds mean. Rain, rain, rain. By this afternoon it will be pouring and our picnic will be a disaster.”

6. OVERGENERALIZATION: After only one or two instances of an event, you leap to the conclusion that it happens every time or to everybody or everywhere. I call this the “always” distortion.

Real life example: My wife is not the most “prompt” person who ever lived. In fact, she will admit that there are times when she has caused us to be late to various functions. I used to get quite frustrated and say things to her like “you are always late” and “can’t we be on time, just once”. I would make myself miserable by believing what I was thinking and saying to her. The truth is that she is, in fact, usually on time.

7. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be beaten and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also part of the "should statements." You also try (maybe unknowingly) to manipulate others by telling them what they should and shouldn’t do. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.

Example: “I should have known that we were supposed to wear casual attire to this party.” or “you should have balanced this darn checkbook.”

Truthful statements:” I wish I would have known about the casual attire at this party, I feel so foolish” - and - “honey, I really would like you to start balancing the checkbook.”

A good “rule of thumb” is that the “shoulds” only apply when it is the government's law or in God's law. Examples of this might be: “The speed limit here is 55 mph so I really should be driving that speed.” You shouldn’t be having an affair with that woman. Someone is going to get very hurt by your actions.”

8. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out one negative thing and dwell on it so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like a drop of ink that turns the entire beaker of water black.

Example: You spill a glass of wine at a dinner party an conclude that the entire evening was a disaster.

9. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You think, “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” For example, you feel anxious, so you conclude that something terrible will happen to you.

10. DISCOUNTING THE POSITIVE: You find reasons to distrust and dismiss compliments or friendly moves. Such poisoned thinking discourages friendships and undermines intimacy.

11. MISLABELING: With mislabeling, you tend to paint a picture of reality that you want or fear rather than what actually exists. You may say “I’m a failure” and think that you really are, when all you actually did was make one little mistake.

12. PERSONALIZATION: I call this the “I, I, I, me, me, me” syndrome. Your friend gets a flat tire on the way over to your house and you’re convinced that it was because you asked them to come over and help you with some project. There are probably many reasons for the flat tire but you are convinced that it is all your fault.


* Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, Burns, David D. New York; Signet Books, 1980

* How to think clearer - By Earl Ubell - Parade Magazine, 1984

* From Panic to power - Lucinda Bassett - Harper Collins Books, 1995

* Anxiety, Phobias and Panic - Reneau Z. Peurifoy MA, MFCC - Life Skills, 1992

* Anxiety & Panic Attacks Their Cause and Cure - Robert Handly, Pauline Neff - Fawcett Crest, 1985

* Feel the fear and do it anyway - Susan Jeffers, Ph. D. Fawcett Columbine, 1987

* Pain of Shyness can lead to Isolation - Thrity Umrigar - Knight Ridder Newspapers, 1998

* How to cope with difficult people - Dianne Hales and Robert Hales M.D. - Parade Magazine, 1995

* Professional guide to diseases - 5th Edition - Springhouse, 1995

* Telling yourself the Truth - William Backus & Marie Chapian - Bethany House Publishers, 1980

* The secret of letting go - Guy Finley - Llewellyn Publications, 1993

* Real Moments - Barbara DeAngelis, Ph. D. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, 1994

* Don't Panic - Revised Edition - R. Reid Wilson, Ph. D. Harper Perennial, 1996