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Did I think that?

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How We Think

How we think about a situation often determines how we feel. For example, if we think something is going to turn out great, we will likely feel confident and optimistic. If, on the other hand, we think something is going to fail miserably or cause problems, we can feel depressed or anxious. Sometimes our thoughts about a situation contain errors, or inaccuracies. These errors in thinking fuel anxious or depressed feelings. The erroneous thoughts often happen automatically, that is, they occur without warning or attention when particular situations occur. Below is a list of common errors in thinking that lead to feelings of anxiety or depression (adapted from Aaron Beck 1976, David Burns 1980).

Thought Errors

Mind reading.

Believing that you can know what someone is thinking or how someone feels towards you. For example, you suggest a vacation idea to your husband and he doesn’t say anything. You conclude that not only is he not interested, but that he thinks you are foolish to suggest such a thing.



Believing that you caused situations or events without supporting evidence. For example, your friend doesn’t call you for a couple of weeks and you believe that it must be something that you said.


Catastrophic thinking.

Blowing things out of proportion; minor issues become BIG deals. For example, your boss counsels you on something minor, and you believe you are going to get fired, not be able to find another job, end up homeless, turn to a life of crime, and end up in prison!


Predicting the worst.

You believe in the worst possible scenario without supporting evidence. For example, your daughter’s teacher calls you in for a parent-teacher meeting and you think, she must be acting defiant, disrespectful, and fighting with other kids. Or thinking that because you are having a bad day today, things will always be this bad.


Perfectionistic thinking.

Thinking that everything you do must be perfect. Getting anxious or down on yourself after a social gathering for the smallest things, like the timing of your laugh was off, or the way you laughed made people think you are insensitive, or the volume of your laugh was a little too much for that situation.


Magnifying the negative.

Focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation, while leaving out the positives. For example, your boss compliments you for your performance on a particular task, and you are upset that she didn’t notice your performance on everything else.


Emotional reasoning.

Thinking with your heart and not with your head; you will do something (or not do something) depending on how you feel. “I love you so much; let’s move in together”. Or, “I don’t feel that talking about my problems will work, so I won’t tell anyone”.


All or nothing.

Putting things in extreme categories. For example, “You are always critical of me”, “No one likes me”, or “I am a total failure”.



You assign a label to yourself or others instead of categorizing the shortcomings. For example, you forget to pick up an appetizer for the party, as requested by the host, and you believe that you are a loser instead of just thinking, “I forgot”. Or, after forgetting to pick up the appetizer you blame the host for being irresponsible by not reminding you to pick up the appetizer.



Blaming others for your emotional reactions and what you do. For example, slamming the door and then saying, “He makes me SO angry!”


Thinking Differently

Thinking this way is not uncommon. When you feel anxious or depressed, it is important to examine your thoughts to determine whether there is evidence to support them. Often times when a Thought Error is there, people find that there is not much evidence to support their erroneous thought and they can decide to think differently about their situation. See Facing Anxiety and Facing Depression for a closer look at examining thoughts related to these feelings.


Next Steps

Sometimes we get stuck in our thinking errors and our anxious or depressed feelings get the best of us. At these times it is important to reach out for help. I work with adults, adolescents, and children in Southlake and surrounding areas who struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression. Please contact me today to discuss how I can help you.


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Dr. Michael Messina

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