For some of us it is easy for our minds to get caught in patterns of thinking. These are sometimes referred to as thought traps. Some people have thought patterns that are overly optimistic, they see so much good it can sometimes affect their judgement. Then there are some whose thought patterns lean toward mostly thinking negative thoughts. Today, we will talk about negative thought traps, how they affect you and ways to break the pattern. Do you find yourself often in patterns of beating yourself up, or extreme worry? Do you dwell on things of the past or the things to come? Keep reading. Maybe you can find a step to take to improve your thought patterns.
How Do I Recognize a Trap?
A trap can be seen as an irrational thought that continues and overpowers your other thoughts. The danger in not seeking help for these types of thought traps is they can lead you to begin believing things that are not always fully true. When we continue in this thought patterns, it can eventually lead to unwise decisions or even anxiety and/or depression. Let’s look at some ways that we can identify different patterns that could be trapping your thoughts.
What are Common Thought Patterns?
There are a several thought traps that can affect us. Not all of us fall into all of these. Below are eight common traps that are common.
1. Jumping to Conclusions. If you find yourself “knowing” the outcome before all the facts are even known, this trap could affect you. For example, if you send someone a text and they don’t reply right away, you assume they are ignoring you instead of they could be busy.
2. Overgeneralization pattern. This is when you may have a small piece of information that you then make a broad “this will happen”. Here you may find yourself saying “why does this always happen to me?”.
3. Personalization trap. With personalization you take blame for something that was not in your control. You make things you hear to be about you. If you blame yourself for someone else having a hard time or day, you may be affected by this thought pattern.
4. All or nothing. You have a habit of landing with one extreme or the other. You are oftentimes unable to settle for what is. You often expect all things will fail or all things will be perfect. Both of these are untrue mindsets. This trap tends to use the words “all” or “never” in them. “It is always going to be this way.” Is an example of this mindset.
5. Emotional Reasoning. If you find yourself living based off of how you feel, you may struggle with an emotional reasoning mindset trap. Believing what we feel can be dangerous to us. A simple example could be “I am board, so I must be boring.” Or “I feel so stupid, I know I am stupid.”. Again, taking one feeling to the extreme can lead us to being self-critical, affecting our mind space.
6. Ignoring the Positive. If you write off everything as luck or coincidence, you may have a hard time believing in and seeing good.
7. Filtering. Filtering occurs when there are good and negative aspects to a circumstance or outcome, but you only think of speak of the negative parts.
8. Fallacy of Fairness. You live solely on your standards and ways and if anyone treats you otherwise, they are being unfair to you. This mindset leads to resentment, anger and unhappiness. These often interfere with your life relationships.
How Can I Think Healthier?
Taking steps toward improving your thoughts will not be your mind having only positive thoughts. We do not and cannot live a world where only positive things happen. Healthy thoughts are more balanced with what really is. It is when we can see a circumstance and all of its parts. The positive parts of it, the neutral parts of it as well as the negative. It is when we are able to see more than just one extreme or the other. Some find it helpful to write this out. For example, if you gave a presentation and got mixed up on the order of a couple points, to see all sides of the circumstance could look like this. I did get mixed up on those two points, however, I presented all the facts that I intended to. While those two points may be unclear to some, the remaining ninety percent of the presentation was solid. This allows you to be human and stop expecting perfection 100 percent of the time. That is not possible. Would you like to practice steps that could help you manage your thought traps?
How do I Disrupt Thought Traps?
There are four steps that could be helpful in recognizing the thought pattern and overcoming the negative trap of your thoughts.
Step 1. Identify the Trap- When you begin to race in circles in your thoughts, review the types of traps and what trap you are in. You can often actually be stuck in multiple traps. Own what trap you are in. Identify the key words (always, never, should be, could be). It can be an important part of the process. Write down the traps that seem possible.
Step 2. Separate yourself- here is where you ask yourself questions to try to get out of the trap. Questions such as the below.
- Analyze what actually happened? – only facts that can be proved or was seen.
- Discover what you are thinking right now? What am I telling myself about this?
- Determine what are your emotions? How do you feel about what happened?
- What are your actions/behaviors? How are you coping?
Step 3. Take a Stand- begin to challenge your thoughts. Take a look at what really happened. State things that negate the trap. An example could be that you make a mistake and find yourself thinking “I can’t ever do anything right.”. Ask yourself if there is evidence that you have done everything in your life completely wrong. Ask yourself if there is a decision or task that you have done right. Once you remember a positive decision or action, speak that to yourself. Deny your thoughts the ability to hijack you. Repeating this process can make a difference, over time, to your mental health. Refuse to trash talk yourself.
Step 4. Balance is Key- it is ok to feel what you feel right now. Learning to balance the negative posture of our thoughts takes time. Practice. Practice. Practice. We simply cannot undo what has taken a lifetime to form overnight. With time, it is possible to improve the way we treat ourselves in our minds.
If you have tried to balance your thoughts and need help working through how to do that, you are not alone. Upstate Restorative Counseling has therapists who can listen and help you discover next steps.