Unhelpful Thinking – part 3

Self esteem and self confidence can be undermined by our thinking habits. In this final part looking at some of these unhelpful habits, there are just two remaining. What we have covered to date are:-

unhelpful thinking



All or Nothing

Over Generalization

Jumping to Conclusions

Mental Filter



Which leaves us with:-

Self Blaming

This is the tendency to blame ourselves when things go wrong, to always assume “its our fault”. Even when an event isn’t within your control, you take responsibility for the outcome. This personalization can often take place within relationships – if a person is angry or upset you assume its your fault, its because you said something to upset them.

In a worse case scenario people put up with violence from a partner, telling themselves it was their “bad behavior” that caused them to act violently.

If you see yourself as the root of all problems, it is naturally going to lead to low self esteem. We will feel angry and frustrated with ourselves, and our thinking focuses on our inadequacies. Rather than problem solving or taking a rational, balanced view of a difficulty we just dwell on “what we have caused“.

This doesn’t mean that you should never take responsibility or start blaming others or other things for any misfortune! But practice looking for alternative explanations before automatically blaming yourself.

Disqualifying the Positive

You reject positive experiences or achievements. To build our self esteem an important technique is to remind ourselves of our successes, what is good about our life, what we do well. If you tell yourself that your successes “don’t count” for some reason – such as “anyone could have done it” – then all you see is failure.

Everyday we do things we can feel positive about, things that we gloss over as we’re familiar with them. We forget the skills we learnt in order to perform them without thinking – such as cooking meals, driving, reading and writing. If you remind yourself that not everyone can do these things, then its easier to keep your bigger achievements in perspective.

How to Change

These ten unhelpful thinking patterns – sometimes called thinking errors or twisted thinking – can affect us all. The main thing to grasp is that our thoughts about an event that affect our feelings – not the event itself. Two people can experience the same event and come away with different thoughts on it. Consequently they will feel differently.

If you constantly interpret things negatively, your outlook and feelings will be negative. This perpetuates low self esteem – it can also lead to depression and anxiety. The principles here form the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), now seen as an effective therapy for depression.

The first stage in changing is to realize you are doing it. Write things down. Some of the habits – “shoulds” for example – are easier to notice than others. If you can identify more than one, select the most frequent or easily spotted.

Practice challenging that one habit. What’s an alternative interpretation? How would a friend view it? Are there other words you could use?

It may take a while and it may be frustrating. Don’t forget – you’re changing the habits of a lifetime. But recognizing the connection between your thoughts and how you feel, then changing your thoughts, can pay huge dividends.

Pollyanna Jacobs September 22, 2008 at 6:10 pm

I like this very much, the idea of trying to perceive a situation from the point of view of one of my more positive friends. Instead of feeling like a victim of a situation I can just try to see the whole thing from a different angle. I know this take some work but it’s a handy tool that will help boost self esteem. Thanks for the article.

Pollyanna Jacobss last blog post..Why Everyone Needs a Coach

Maria | Never the Same River Twice September 23, 2008 at 10:02 pm

Wow, David. Some of these hit a little too close to home.

I’ve had great success using some Cognitive Behavioral techniques in the past. I’m sure your readers would benefit from a longer post going into more detail about some of these.

David September 24, 2008 at 7:40 am

Maria –
I agree, Cognitive Behavioral techniques and approaches can be a very useful. My problem is steering a course between “educational” posts and “therapy”. But any discussion on thinking is going to touch on cognitive behavioral techniques to some extent.
Pollyanna –
Changing your viewpoint is a crucial technique, thanks for reitterating this.

Davids last blog post..Unhelpful Thinking – part 3

Irish Gifts October 12, 2008 at 5:47 am

Useful stuff. I do recognize some of these traits within myself. They can also be a bit of a slippery slope. I tend to be a perfectionist, but maybe I should be letting a few things slide without worrying too much about them!

Jeannette October 29, 2008 at 11:05 pm

Found this article very useful. interesting to read. I will definitely be trying to use some of the suggestions especially looking at things differently and not worring too much about things.

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