The Ten Forms of Self Defeating Thoughts
1. All or nothing - thinking
You see things in black-and white categories. If a situation falls short of
perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a
spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, 'I've blown my diet completely.'
This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice
You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career
reversal as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as 'always'
or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became
terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He
told himself, 'Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!'
3. Mental filter
You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that
your vision of all of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that
discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments
about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them
says something mildly critical You obsess about his reaction for days and
ignore all the positive feedback.
4. Discounting the positive
You reject positive experiences by insisting they 'don't count.' If you do
a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone
could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life
and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.
5. Jumping to conclusions
You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your
Mind reading: Without
checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively
Fortune telling: You
predict that things will turn out badly. Before a lest you may tell yourself,
'I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?' If you're depressed you may
tell yourself, 'I'll never get better.'
You exaggerate the importance of your
problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable
qualities. This is also called the 'binocular trick.'
7. Emotional reasoning
You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things
really are: 'I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very
dangerous to fly.' Or 'I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person.' Or 'I feel
angry. This proves I'm being treated unfairly.' Or I feel so inferior. This
means I'm a second-rate person.' Or 'I feel hopeless. I must really be
8. "Should statements"
You tell yourself that
things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a
difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, 'I shouldn't
have made so many mistakes.' This made her feel so disgusted that she quit
practicing for several days. 'Musts,' 'oughts' and 'have tos' are similar
offenders. 'Should statements' that are directed against yourself lead to
guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other
people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: 'He shouldn't
be so stubborn and argumentative'
Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn'ts , as if
they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to
do anything. 'I shouldn't eat that doughnut.' This usually doesn't work
because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the
urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this
'musterbation.' I call it the 'shouldy' approach to life.
Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying
'I made a mistake.' you attach a negative label to yourself: 'I'm a loser.'
You might also label yourself 'a foal' or 'a failure' or 'a jerk.' Labeling
is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings
exist. but 'fools,' 'losers,' and 'jerks' do not. These labels are useless
abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self- esteem.
You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the
wrong way, you may tell yourself: 'He's an S.O.B Then you feel that the
problem is with that person's 'character' or 'essence' instead of with their
thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel
hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for
10.Personalization and blame
Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an
event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note
that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, 'this
shows what a bad mother I am,' instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the
problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's
husband beat her, she told herself, lf only I were better in bed, he wouldn't
beat me.' Personalization leads to guilt. shame, and feelings of inadequacy.
Same people do the opposit. They blame other people or their circumstances
for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to
the problem: 'The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is
totally unreasonable.' Blame usually doesn't work very well because other
people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right
back in your lap. It's like the game of hot potato - no one wants to get
stuck with it.
From The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D.
and Life in Motion Coaching website copyright © 2004-2005
Life in Motion Coaching sm and Life
Coach Jana Beutler Holland. All Rights Reserved.