The Damage of Thinking Errors…Part One
Chantelle K. Dockter,
MA Licensed Professional Counselor
Question: I find that I am very sensitive at work or out with my friends if people are talking one-on-one near me, but not with me. I assume they are talking about me and it makes me increasingly paranoid. How do I stop this?
Answer: Assuming is just one of many thinking errors, or thoughts that are negatively misleading. Thinking errors are almost always damaging in one way or another. Sometimes thinking errors are referred to as mistakes in thinking, or cognitive distortions. It is important to be able to become aware of, identify, and then challenge thinking errors. I will go over a few of the most common thinking errors in this article, and go over a few more in next month’s article.
Let’s start with taking a look at assuming, since that is what our question brought up. Assuming falls under the thinking error of Jumping to Conclusions. This is where we assume something negative where there is no evidence to support it. There are two specific sub-types, known as mind-reading and fortune telling.
• Mind-reading. This is where we assume the intentions of others. We draw a conclusion in our heads about what someone else thinks or their motives, and run with it without checking in with them to confirm or rule-out our assumption. We determine that we know what others are thinking of us. For example, thinking “my boss didn’t smile at me in the meeting, she must be mad at me” or “I haven’t heard from my friend Janet, she must not want me as a friend anymore”. To combat this, we should ask ourselves, “How do we know that…”. Come up with any supporting facts (usually there are not any) and then check in with the person. Nobody can read anybody else’s mind!
• Fortune Telling. This is where we assume that events/situations will turn out badly, although we don’t have evidence that this will happen. A prediction of what will come becomes a fact to us, even without the event happening yet. For example, assuming that a difficult conversation that needs to be had with a friend will go badly, or end the relationship, when there is no supporting evidence for this. Oftentimes this thinking error keeps us from action, because we talk ourselves out of what we need to do because of what we have forecasted. Again, look for supporting evidence, or lack thereof. Try to challenge the negative thoughts of what “will” happen, to a balanced look at what “could” happen, both positive and negative and prepare yourself for either result.
Another common thinking error is that of Magnification/Minimization. This Where we exaggerate negatives, and understate the positives.
• Catastrophizing is a way of magnifying a situation, making it much bigger than it actually is. The word “impossible” is often used, or “I can’t handle it”, rather than just not liking it or feeling comfortable with it. For example, “If I have to give a speech in front of my class, I will just die. I will pass out, or get sick and everyone will think I am an idiot and my college career will be over”. By catastrophizing, we make a situation too big for us to handle or resolve, and therefore often don’t take responsibility for the behavior. When faced with this, do a reality check. How big a jump are you making from something being undesirable to it being unbearable? What is the good that can come from the situation, not just the bad?
• Minimization is where we make the problem seem smaller than it actually is. This is often done in an attempt to avoid being accountable for a behavior. For example, “I was only 15 minutes past curfew” or “I only smoked a little pot”. Usually others will give feedback about our attempts to minimize, as we often use them to get out of trouble. Be open to other’s feedback, and willing to take an honest look at behavior if it is brought to your attention by those who know you best.
Next month we will take a look at a few more common thinking errors. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and check in with your thought processes as you encounter different situations. You may be surprised to find some thinking errors that have wormed their way in…but rest assured, you do have the power to kick them out!
Chantelle K. Dockter, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Associate of Christian Counseling Centers of OR & WA, cccow.org