You often realize that you are continuously thinking in a negative way regarding different aspects of life and that there is a pattern to it. These mind traps are the patterns of negative thoughts, often a result of anxiety, depression or some kind of disorder. For instance, you may naturally assume that you are “never sufficient” and then believe it, when one small piece of a certain task does not come out the way you thought it to be. These thoughts can cause you to feel more discouraged or on the edge.
These patterns of negative thinking or mind traps are often referred to as Cognitive Distortion. What is cognitive distortion and why is it common in so many people? Cognitive Distortions are basically ways our mind mispresents things and persuades us of something that is not true. These negative thoughts mask the truth. Usually these mind traps further help in supporting negative thinking and emotions. As a result, we communicate to ourselves things that sound logical and true, but in actual are far from accurate. These do not help in any way, instead we continue to feel awful about ourselves.
Following are some common examples of negative thinking traps that can add to anxiety, depression, and other red indicators.
All or Nothing (Black and White) Thinking
You see things in extremes – black-or-white categories with no shades of grey. If something misses the perfection mark, you consider it to be an absolute disaster. You get into perfectionism and if it is not 100% of how you wanted it, then it is NOT what you wanted. It is also known as polarized thinking. A person with this thinking does not allow any middle ground for any situation or people.
“If I didn’t get into the so-and-so university, I am a total failure.”
You take a single negative detail about a person or a situation and see it as a continuous pattern of negativity – defeat or failure. A person with this mind trap expects one bad event to happen again and again. They usually use words like “always” or “never” while talking about situations like getting poor grades, job rejection etc.
“I will always be a bad student”
“I will never succeed in securing a good job”
Mental filtering also referred to as Selective Abstraction veils your view of the whole reality. You single out a negative aspect of an experience and focus on these details entirely. Holding on to only unpleasant and negative details of a situation obscures the positive or neutral parts of it.
You only focus on one or two misspelled words on a graded paper, ignoring all the positive feedback you are given. You think that it has ruined the whole thing.
Discounting the positive
It is also called Minimizing. Even when you have some positive experiences in your life, you keep on denying them and convince yourself that they do not count. For instance, when you do something good in your life, you do not take credit. You tell yourself that anybody could have done it and it is not a big achievement. Disregarding the positive makes your feel worthless and insufficient. It eliminates the joy we experience after a job well done and strengthens the negative view of ourselves or a situation.
“I know I got an A in class assignment, but I still messed up in the exam and I will end up getting an F.”
Fortune-telling / Jumping to conclusions
You construe things negatively about yourself or a situation without knowing whether it is true or not. People with this mind trap just assume the worst when there is no fact to support their assumptions. With this continuous pattern of negative thinking, you take a pessimistic approach for everything that will happen in the future. You think that you know the future and this mind trap makes the upcoming situation worse for you. Jumping to conclusions is likewise portrayed as fortune-telling, assuring you that your future is all pre-planned. Pre-occupied mindset affects your efficiency and behavior.
“I know I am not going to recover from this disease” so you may not bother taking medications.
“I know I won’t perform well on stage” so you panic even before going on the stage and it effects your performance.
You assume that you can read others’ minds and then conclude what they think about you – being sure it is negative. Typically, without even checking out you just believe that everyone is thinking and reacting to you or a situation, in a negative way.
“I called a person and he/she didn’t answer. I am sure they don’t like talking to me.” In fact, it might be that they were just busy and call you back soon.
It is also referred to as “Magnifying / Minimizing”. When you engage in catastrophizing, you “magnify” the importance of things – your mistakes, problems, weaknesses or others’ accomplishments. You think the worst is going to happen no matter what. You also improperly “minimize” the importance of your positive qualities or others’ imperfections. A person with this kind of negative thinking pattern takes a problem or negative situation and puts it in inappropriate and unrealistic importance.
“They didn’t taste my food because I am not a good cook.”
Your negative thinking takes over you. You assume that these emotions truly define you or a situation, without realizing that your feelings do not tell the whole story. A person with this mind trap thinks that something is true just because they feel so, even when there is no proof of it.
“I feel like I always fail, so I am a failure.”.
“I feel reluctant to go skydiving, that’s why it is dangerous.”
“Should” and “should not” statements
You think live with some hard and fast rules of “should” and “must” statements (and the inverse, “should not” and “must not”). Things should be in a certain way or people should behave how you expect them to be. They feel disappointed and frustrated if they break the rule themselves or if things do not happen the way they want, it makes them angry. It can also offend others, when you intend to control them with your “should” statements.
“I should fold the laundry right away.”
“I must not go shopping more than once a month.”
Labeling also referred to as “Mislabeling”, is a severe kind of all-or-nothing (black-and-white) thinking. So, when you or someone else commit a mistake, instead of explaining the behavior or the mistake in perspective of a certain situation, you attach a negative label to yourself or someone else. A person with this mind trap takes one or two negative traits and makes a universal judgement about themselves or others. When you label yourself or others like that, you stop seeing the actual person, rather you comprehend them strictly through that label. So much so that you cannot look at them in a different way.
“I couldn’t answer a question in the exam, I am stupid.”
“He was speaking up in an argument, he is always rude”
Personalization and blame
Personalization (blaming) is a result of negative thinking pattern where you consider yourself the reason of a situation that you had no control over. You assume that you were responsible for a bad incident. This also includes taking things personally, even when they are not meant to harm you.
“We lost this football game because I was one of the cheerleaders”.
“How disrespectful that he didn’t look at me when he walked past me?” when he just did not spot you there.
Identifying and challenging mind traps
Many psychologists and other therapists, while treating their patients, address cognitive distortions and try to help them learn to change this behavior. When a person figures out how to properly identify these mind traps, he/she would then be able to respond back to the negative thinking and deny it. By continuously challenging the mind trap and denying the negative thoughts time and time again, it will gradually grow weaker. More positive, rational, and balanced thoughts will replace it.
In upcoming article, we will discuss how to avoid mind traps effectively.
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