Negative Thinking Patterns

^z 13th January 2024 at 4:50pm

A recent article in The Atlantic ("The Coddling of the American Mind") by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt concluded with a list of "Common Cognitive Distortions" credited to Robert L. Leahy et al. (2012). It seems to be a subset of a longer list by the same author in 2010 titled "How Depressed People Think: 17 thought distortions you can avoid". The list is fascinating, maybe important:

  • Mind Reading: You assume that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. "He thinks I'm a loser."
  • Fortune-Telling: You predict the future negatively: things will get worse or there is danger ahead. "I'll fail the exam." "I won't get that job."
  • Catastrophizing: You believe that what will happen will be so awful that you won't be able to stand it. "It would be unbearable if I failed."
  • Labeling: You broadly assign negative traits to yourself and others. "I'm undesirable." "He's a rotten person."
  • Discounting Positives: You write off the positive things you or others do as trivial. "That's what wives are supposed to do, so it doesn't count when she's nice to me." "Those successes were easy, so they don't matter."
  • Negative Filtering: You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives. "Look at all of the people who don't like me."
  • Overgeneralizing: You perceive a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. You go beyond one experience and generalize to a pattern that characterizes your life. "This always happens to me." "I seem to fail at a lot of things."
  • Dichotomous thinking: You view events or people in all-or-nothing terms. "I get rejected by everyone." "It was a complete waste of time." You are either a "winner" or a "loser" and you seldom think in shades of gray.
  • Shoulds: You interpret events in terms of expectations and demands rather than simply focusing on what is. "I should do well. If I don't, then I'm a failure."
  • Personalizing: You claim a disproportionate amount of the blame when bad things happen, and you don't see that certain events are also caused by others. "The marriage ended because I failed."
  • Blaming: You focus on another person as the source of your negative feelings, so you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. "I'm lonely because of her." "My parents caused all my problems."
  • Unfair Comparisons: You interpret events by standards that are unrealistic—for example, you focus primarily on others who do better than you. Ironically, you seldom compare yourself to people who are worse off. "She's more successful than I am." "Others did better than I did on the test."
  • Regret Orientation: You focus on the idea that you could have done better in the past, rather than on what you can do better now. "I shouldn't have said that." "I could have had a better job if I had tried."
  • What if?: You keep asking questions about "what if" something happens, and you refuse to be satisfied with any of the answers. "Yeah, but what if I get anxious?" "What if I can't catch my breath?"
  • Emotional Reasoning: You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. "I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out."
  • Inability to Disconfirm: You reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. For example, when you have the thought "I'm unlovable," you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Consequently, your thought cannot be refuted. It's impossible to prove that your negative thinking is wrong, so you hold onto it. "That's not the real issue." "There are deeper problems." "There are other factors."
  • Judgment Focus: You evaluate yourself, others, and events as good/bad or superior/inferior, rather than simply describing, accepting, or understanding. You are continually measuring things according to arbitrary standards and finding that they fall short. "I didn't perform well in college." "If I take up tennis, I won't do well." "Look how successful she is. I'm not successful."

Perhaps somewhat redundant or non-orthogonal (overlapping) — but definitely good to self-observe, notice, and at times try to apply countermeasures!

(cf. Don't Panic (2010-11-17), Big Biases (2014-01-09), ...) - ^z - 2015-08-28