Characterizing Your Thought Patterns


A key component of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is characterizing your maladaptive thoughts. Maladaptive thoughts are ways of thinking that do not serve a logical purpose but stem from depression or anxiety.

Here are some examples of maladaptive thinking patterns:

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Also called black and white thinking, this is the belief that a situation is 100% one way or another. An example thought might sound like, “Because she forgot to call, she doesn’t like me at all.”
  • Catastrophizing: This is assuming the worst of a situation. An example thought might sound like, “Since they left early, they didn’t have any fun at the party.”
  • Over-Generalizing: This is making the presumption that a single event is a part of a larger pattern. An example thought might sound like, “She always does this! She always forgets her keys.”
  • Mental Filter: This is only paying attention to facts that fit your narrative.  An example thought might sound like, “I know they said it was a joke, but that doesn’t seem to fit.”
  • Disqualifying the Positive: This is acknowledging only the negative aspects of a situation.  An example thought might sound like, “I am the worst person.”
  • Jumping to Conclusions: This is trying to mind-read or predict the future. An example thought might sound like, “She won’t date me because of how I look.”
  • Low Frustration Tolerance: This is stonewalling or giving up on a situation. An example thought might sound like “I’m over it!”
  • Minimization of the Problem: This is discounting how much a specific situation matters to you. An example thought might sound like, “It’s not that big of a deal.”
  • Emotional Reasoning: This is assuming that our feelings match the reality of a situation. An example thought might sound like, “Since I’m sad about failing the exam, I shouldn’t have failed.”
  • Making Demands: This is prefacing your thoughts with words like “must,” “ought,” or “should.” An example thought might sound like, “I should be a better person.”
  • Labeling Others: This is diagnosing others or giving them a label that generalizes their whole person down to a single term. An example thought might sound like, “They’re crazy!”
  • Personalization of a Problem: This is taking on the burden of an entire situation. An example thought might sound like, “I’m to blame for this entire mess.”

These are just some ways to characterize your thoughts. A helpful exercise is to write down some of your thoughts and then classify them based on these different tendencies. Are you engaging in all or nothing thinking, catastrophizing, over-generalizing, mental filter, disqualifying the positive, jumping to conclusions, low frustration tolerance, minimization, emotional reasoning, demands, labeling, or personalization?

Characterizing maladaptive thought processes can help you move from a place of anxiety or depression to a place of increased inner calm. This is a basic principle of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Our expert staff at Valiant Living will help you manage any mental illness with these tools. At our men’s only facility in Denver, Colorado, we help you overcome thought patterns that may contribute to mental illness. We treat addiction and co-occurring mental illness with evidence-based practices. One of those evidence-based practices is CBT. To learn more about the care we provide, you can reach out at (303) 952-5035.