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Seven Common Unhealthy Patterns of Thinking

Cognitive behavior therapy is the gold standard for therapeutic practice. The thought behind cognitive behavior therapy says that the way that we think affect the way that we feel, and inversely, the way that we feel affects our decisions, choices, and behaviors.  Cognitive behavior therapy works to seek out and correct unhealthy thinking that is causing mental anguish.  While this is a fairly simplified explanation of what happens in cognitive behavior therapy, this is the gist of it.

With the help of cognitive behavior therapy, you can take mental disorders like anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorders or bipolar disorder and get real, lasting help.  You do not need to have a diagnosed disorder to need or receive help from cognitive behavior therapy.

Seven Unhealthy Thinking Patterns Cognitive Behavior Therapy Can Help


  1. Overgeneralization – Do you often use the word “always” or “never” when you are talking about the behaviors of someone else or an occurrence that you find happens often? This is overgeneralization.  Your boss asks you to rewrite something and you say that she always makes you redo things that you submit.  This is overgeneralization.  You tell your husband that he never changes the toilet paper roll.  This is overgeneralization.

  1. Self-Serving Bias – With the Self-Serving Bias cognitive distortion, the person in question regularly attributes good things and positive events to him or herself – saying that the fundraiser had such a great turnout because he or she was there, or that the company made more money solely because of his or her efforts – while attributing negative happenings or events to external factors. Examples of external factors can include a fender bender caused by a careless biker or a “hidden” street sign, or an event was not as profitable because other people did not pull their own weight.  Sometimes this may be true, but the person with a Self-Serving Bias will make these claims whether they are true or not.

  1. Einstein’s definition of insanity – Einstein said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While this is not the true definition of insanity, it is a cognitive distortion.  One of the best examples of this is in relationship communications and the classic visage of the nagging wife.  She believes that if she nags her partner, he or she will change.  When that does not work, she nags more expecting that this will have a different result and the extra nagging will make her partner change.  Chances are, her partner is not going to change regardless of how much nagging she does.

  1. Thinking only in black and white. – The whole world is made up of shades of gray. Thinking about things in an all or nothing kind of way without seeing all of the possibilities in between is a cognitive distortion.  For example, you wrote a paper for a college class.  You get a B.  If you are a black and white thinker, you do not do any more work for that class because there is no point in working if you are not going to get an A every time.

  1. Labeling – Even more extreme than black and white thinking, labeling takes all or nothing thinking to the extreme. A person who engages in labeling will take the B on the paper, decide based on the grade that he or she is stupid and has no business being enrolled in higher education.  Labeling involves putting a label on yourself or others based on a very limited event or on insufficient information.

  1. Ignoring alternate theories – You have come up with a theory or a potential plan for how something is going to happen. But you are working in a group and other people have information that you do not have or input that needs to be heard.  If you ignore the information that could be helpful to you or you dismiss reasons other than your own for why or how something should happen or did happen, this is a cognitive distortion.

  1. Personality absorption or cognitive conformity – Often, this happens in the subconscious, but personality absorption or cognitive conformity happens when you take on the views and the thoughts of the people around you in order to fit in. Most of the time, a person does not consciously realize that this is happening, but it is a real and potentially very dangerous cognitive distortion.
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