Thinking traps


thinking traps are a type of cognitive distortion

usually, they represent damaging patterns of thought that habitually put a negative spin on certain subjects within our brains and prevent us from seeing a more positive objective reality

these cognitive distortions are often deeply ingrained in our psyche – which means, problematically, we are frequently unaware of them. they can also be extremely dangerous, as – by twisting our thoughts – they are able to make us jump to wrong conclusions and cause us to make bad decisions

practitioners of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) understand that how we interact with the world has a huge impact on our attitude to everyday life. as a consequence, it is only when we overcome the thinking traps buried deep in our minds, that we can see the truth – and, crucially, take ownership of our own destinies

common thinking traps

  1. all-or-nothing thinking – the inability to take a measured response or see any middle ground. this common thinking trap convinces individuals that if one thing hasn’t gone according to plan, everything else will be a failure. typically, sufferers are so caught up in their personal anguish that they are blinded to the fact that no one is good at everything – and, often, this leads to isolationism, confidence issues, and poor personal wellbeing

    for example: “i made a fool of myself at the roller disco – i’m just useless at everything!”

  2. emotional reasoning – believing emotions to be evidence of the truth.
    for many individuals, it is often difficult to see beyond emotional responses; and, if they can, to recognise that they are not always rational and rarely represent objective evidence for reality

    for example: “i feel awful – other people must think I’m awful too”

  3. mind-reading – this is the tendency to believe that you know what people are thinking – and, more usually, to assume that they are thinking negatively about you

    for example: “the man interviewing me rolled his eyes at one point – i’m sure he hated me.”

  4. fortune telling – this relates to the tendency in individuals with poor self-confidence to predict how situations will play out – but characteristically with a negative spin

    for example: “my presentation at work later is going to be a disaster…”

  5. labelling – the inclination to incorrectly assign a negative label to either yourself or others

    for example: “i messed up my driving test this morning – i am an utter failure”

  6. overgeneralisation – allowing negative events to become norms; and assuming that, if they occur again, that the outcomes will be similarly negative

    for example: “why do i never get any good luck? why does this keep happening to me?”

  7. personalisation – the tendency to wrongfully assume responsibility for negative situations

    for example: “it’s all my fault that tonight’s dinner party was a disaster – i should have stayed at home”

anxiety and catastrophising

Individuals that suffer from anxiety often experience a thinking trap known as ‘catastrophising’

typically, catastrophising is triggered by ambiguity, and the habitual response of reacting to unknown situations by imbuing negative connotations without any proper context

cbt practitioners believe these kinds of behavioural responses are traced to childhood experiences – and are generally linked to individuals that have had turbulent or unstable upbringings. when people routinely exhibit catastrophising, it is a prominent indication of deep-seated anxiety – and usually needs to be treated with long-term therapy

for example, if a sufferer’s partner doesn’t contact them for a longer-than-expected period, they will likely assume the worst; and they will be liable to react to a mild stomach upset by instantly assuming they have been struck down by something terminal


if self-doubt starts creeping back, take a moment to yourself, and think of something positive in an effort to suppress your rising negative thoughts. negative cognitive distortions are heightened when individuals are in a poor physical condition – it is important to look after yourself – as allowing yourself to get rundown will only exacerbate problems. when individuals fall into a pattern of habitual negative thinking, it can seriously affect their mental health, be deeply incapacitating, and hold them back from realising anything like their full potential​

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