reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the
way things really are."
The Feeling Good Handbook, Part 5
The Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking
You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation
falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a
young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told
herself, "Iíve blown my diet completely." This thought
upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice
You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection
or career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using
words such as "always" or "never" when you
think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he
noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself,
"Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my
You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it
exclusively, so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened,
like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example:
You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a
group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly
critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all
the positive feedback.
Discounting the positive
You reject positive experiences by insisting they "donít
count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it
wasnít good enough or that anyone could have done as well.
Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you
feel inadequate and unrewarded.
Jumping to conclusions
You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to
support your conclusion. Mind reading: Without checking it out,
you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to
you. Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly.
Before a test you may tell yourself, "Iím really going to
blow it. What if I flunk?" If youíre depressed you may tell
yourself, "Iíll never get better."
You exaggerate the importance of your problems and
shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable
qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."
You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the
way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on
airplanes. It must be dangerous to fly." Or "I feel
guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or "I feel angry.
This proves Iím being treated unfairly." Or "I feel so
inferior. This means Iím a second-rate person." Or "I
feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless."
You tell yourself that things should be the way you
hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on
the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldnít have
made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that
she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts"
and "have tos" are similar offenders.
"Should statements" that are directed against
yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are
directed against other people or the world in general lead to
anger and frustration: "He shouldnít be so stubborn and
Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldníts,
as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they
could be expected to do anything. "I shouldnít eat that
doughnut." This usually doesnít work because all these
shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to
do just the opposite. Dr. Alber Ellis has called this "musterbation."
I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.
Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead
of saying "I made a mistake," you attach a negative
label to yourself: "Iím a loser." You might also label
yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a
jerk." Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the
same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools,"
"losers," and "jerks" do not. These labels are
just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety,
frustration, and low self-esteem.
You also label others. When someone does something that rubs
you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: "Heís an S.O.B."
Then you feel that the problem is with that personís
"character" or "essence" instead of with their
thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you
feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little
room for constructive communication.
Personalization and blame
Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally
responsible for an event that isnít entirely under your control.
When a woman received a note that her child was having
difficulties at school, she told herself, "This shows what a
bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of
the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When
another womanís husband beat her, she told herself, "If
only I were better in bed, he wouldnít beat me."
Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy.
Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their
circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they
might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage
is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable."
Blame usually doesnít work very well because other people will
resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right
back into your lap. Itís like the game of hot potato Ė no one
wants to get stuck with it.
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