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A Golden Key to Positive Personal Progress

Many of us, especially those of us diagnosed with PTSD, have been taught that PTSD is an unchanging boulder in life's path. Once you have it, you will always have it. Actually, PTSD is a dynamic, ever changing phenomenon that can be bigger or smaller, harder or softer, set off by pressure, stress, conflict, disapointment, and a million other triggers. In some ways it's like the wind; when it blows too hard, people can get frightened and displaced. Other times it's like a calm lake.

When tempers flare, or depression hits, or we want to be alone, it feels like the PTSD behaviors are a part of us, pre-determined and unchangable. But suppose they are not.

We might not be able to change our brain chemistry right away, but imagine this: What if we could turn off just one or two of the thinking habits that set off PTSD? What if we stop a few isolating behaviors? What if we could lose our tempers less often? Many vets with PTSD can't imagine life without anger and bunkering. If only they could...

Change is inevitable. And deciding what changes you actually want is possible. What would you ask for if you knew your next prayer was going to come true?

You can develop new skills at any age. You can believe in yourself; but first you have to WANT to believe. With practice, you can discover that by reducing just one common thinking error you can start getting more of what you want and less of what you don't want. With practice, we can significantly reduce life's nasty chaos, and get some peace of mind. How would life be different if you had serenity just 30 minutes a day? Look at this list. If you fall into any of these mistaken habits in your thinking, you may have discovered a golden key to positive change.

15 Common Thinking Errors

1. Filtering:
We take negative details and magnify them. Then we filter out all the positive aspects of our situation. We mignt select a single detail, and the whole event becomes tainted. An image that comes to mind is a BabyRuth bar in a swimming pool. Filtering lets us magnify the negative things while ignoring the goodness all around. We make mountains out of molehills.

2. Polarized Thinking:
We mess up when we insist on "either / or" choices. Things are black or white, good or bad. A hero or a coward. We see everything as extremes. There's no room for a middle ground. The greatest danger in polarized thinking is how it makes you feel about yourself. For example: You have to be puffed up because you are perfect. Or you are a miserable schmuck because you're a failure.

3. Overgeneralization:
You worry the sky is falling when an acorn falls on your head. When something bad happens, you think it will keep happening forever. "I always strike out." "I neverget a hit." 'Always' and 'never' are words that warn you when you are "overgeneralizing. Overgeneralization is one of the main triggers of isolation, or "bunkering" as the vets call it.

4. Mind Reading:
We mind readers act as if we believe that just by looking at somebody, we can tell what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. We "know" that we're quite senitive to how people are thinking about us! Mind readers have minds like a powerful mental movie projector. We projest our own feelings and reactions onto other people and then act surprised that they never seem to Act the way we do. We can project so hard we ignore people as they really are. We get too busy to pay attention to what folks are saying and doing. People practicing mind reading project their analysis of what's happening onto people who couldn't care less about us, as they are up to their ears in their own, different analysis. Mind reading tends to annoy people who end up avoiding us and the projection. Remember: When you assume you make and ass out of u and me.

5. Catastrophizing:
We expect the sky to fall even when no acorn has fallen on our head. When there are no apparent problems we create one by asking "What if?" "What if all the bees in the world die and stop pollenating and all the people in the world starve and become canibals?" There are no limits to a really fertile catastrophic imagination. As with PTSD, we who expect the sky to fall, don't really trust ourselves and change feels dangerous and to be avoided, even when the change is in our best interests. Seems to me the alternative is to call on a higher power we can trust.

6. Personalization:
"The whole damn world revolves around ME!" Everything people do or say is a reaction to me. I'm always comparing myself to others. Who's smarter? Who has better hair? Since I don't know my own value, if I come out better, I get to feel good for a minute. If I come out worse, I'm back on the dung heap. We can avoid that error by recognizing and remembering our worth.

7. Control Fallacies:
We can feel as if we had none of the control of life; helpless. If you think you are a slave to the credit card companies, with no way out , you can avoid responsibility by believing you are a victim of fate. You might believe instead that you control everything! That makes you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you. When you are a victem of fate, you can't escape from your fate and a world in chaos. When you are a control freak you are exhausted trying to keep everyone happy. And when everyone is Not happy, as they never are, you feel guilty. In reality, we are always making choices that radiate outwards as consequenses. We can practice making decisions and predicting consequenses. This is how we learn.

8. Fallacy of Fairness:
Many of us have an expectation that the world will play fair, according to our rules. Then we feel deep resentment when people ignore your rules and cheat like hell. It may well be, that morality is founded on eternal correct principles. But the world acts as if virtue was a matter of convienience. If you can't let go and let God sort it all out you can be consumed with resentment that makes you wither in bitterness. You could go so far as to believe that other people ignoring your rules of fairness was a personal affront to you. That is a path to spinning wheels and the smell of burnt rubber.

9. Blaming:
You might make one of two choices. You can blame the world for all your problems. You can blame yourself for every problem in the world. Either of these choices, taken to the extreme, allow you to totally avoid responsibility for your own choices. When you are busy blaming yourself or others you avoid asserting yourself to get what you want and need.

10. Shoulds:
Ironclad rules about how you and other people should act masquerade as simple sayings; "You should brush your teeth after meals". Rule breakers make you mad. When you break the rules you feel like a hypocritical failure. The rules are right and you are wrong if you disagree. Watch out for the words: should, ought, and must.

11. Emotional Reasoning:
If you feel stupid or boring, then you must be stupid and boring. If you feel guilty, then you must have done something wrong. If you feel it, it must be true. The problem with emotional reasoning is that our powerful feeling can powerfully distort our thinking. And distorted thinking can further distort our feelings.

12. Fallacy of Change:
You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them. The truth is the only person you can really control or have much hope of changing is yourself.The underlying assumption of this thinking style is that your happiness depends on the actions of others. Your happiness actually depends on the thousands of large and small choices you make in your life.

13. Global Labeling:
You generalize one or two qualities (in yourself or others) into a negative global judgment. Global labeling ignores all contrary evidence, creating a view of the world that can be stereotyped and one-dimensional. Labeling yourself can have a negative and insidious impact upon your self-esteem; while labeling others can lead to snap-judgments, relationship problems, and prejudice.

14. Being Right:
You feel continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness. Having to be 'right' often makes you hard of hearing. You aren't interested in the possible veracity of a differing opinion, only in defending your own. Being right becomes more important than an honest and caring relationship.

15. Heaven's Reward Fallacy:
You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score. You fell bitter when the reward doesn't come as expected. The problem is that while you are always doing the 'right thing,' if your heart really isn't in it, you are physically and emotionally depleting yourself.


Don't worry if you find yourself practicing a thinking error. We all do it. The bad programming just happens to us, randomly. Fortunately, we are allowed to learn skills for our whole lives. You don't stop learning when you become an adult. The key is to break lessons down into simple parts... like learning to avoid the thinking errors that lead to chaos and away from joy. You can make a choice. You can do it. You can change the world by changing yourself. It just takes practice.

Adapted from web pages of Eastern Washington University.

EWU lifted the material from "Thoughts & Feelings" by McKay, Davis, & Fanning. New Harbinger, 1981. McKay, Davis, and Fanning lifted these thinking errors (or cognitive distortions) from the work of several authors, including Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and David Burns, among others.