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Recognising Cognitive Thinking Traps

July 23, 2020

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So far 2020 has come with its fair share of challenges. Unfortunately, for many of us, these challenges are still worsening, and for many others, the repercussions are still being felt. During times of stress and uncertainty, anxiety and fear are common, and it can be useful to understand the reasons behind them. Sometimes, it is not the circumstances themselves but the way we are thinking that makes us experience unpleasant and painful emotions.

Here are a few thinking traps, taken from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) that you may recognise in yourself.

Note: this article is informational only and should not be seen in any way as medical or mental health advice. If you are concerned for your mental well-being, please reach out to a healthcare professional.

Thinking Trap One – Catastrophising

Most of us are, directly or indirectly, familiar with the thinking trap known as catastrophising. Also known as the slippery slope, this is when you are told something, and it leads you to a worst-case scenario.

For example, a client is rude to you, which leads you to think that you are bad at your job, your business will not succeed, your partner will leave you and you will die alone.

Thinking Trap Two – Mind Reading

Assuming that you understand someone’s motivations based on limited information.

For example, a staff member is running late two days in a row, so they must not like their job and are going to quit.

Thinking Trap Three – Emotional Reasoning

Using your emotions as a reference point for the entire world. This sounds ridiculous, but according to psychiatrists, emotional reasoning is one of the most common thinking traps. It means that your emotions are ruling the way that you interpret what is real.

For example, feeling sad because the world is a sad place. Feelings of hopelessness leading to an understanding that you are hopeless and there is no point in trying.

Thinking Trap Four – Labelling

Labelling is unnecessarily putting a negative label on yourself, someone else or a particular circumstance. This can be done either out loud or in your head.

For example, rather than simply apologising for running late for a meeting, berating yourself with “I’m always late,” and, “typical me, so unorganised.”

Thinking Trap Five – Personalisation

Personalisation is wrongfully taking responsibility for something or exaggerating the level of your own responsibility. This will often involve oversimplifying the outcome and over complicating your input.

For example, “the family never would have started fighting if I had ordered the pizza 10 minutes earlier.”

Thinking traps are fascinating because we all fall victim to them at some stage or another. Remember, if you are struggling do not be afraid to reach out to your GP or a support organisation such as Beyond Blue.

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