How to cope? (12 common mistakes in thinking)

12 common mistakes in thinking

Hi everybody, I got this list in order to reflect on my own state of mind and to help me to get beyond fixed thinking patterns which are not productive for dealing with Em (or other illnesses).

Know that this summarisation has the mere purpose of gaining insights. After the realisation that you might be stuck in one of these ways of thinking, exercises and/or awareness is necessary to go beyond it. Thus, this list is not a solution just a starting point for reflection. I do acknowledge that it might be irritating to read some of this stuff, since we deal with quite heavy emotional stuff as Em-patients and it really isn’t that easy to cope. However, I did decide to post the list because it might help. If anyone is offended by it I do apologize for it. That was not my intention at all.



Note: this list was originally written in Dutch, so the translation may be off.

1) ALL or NOTHING/ black and white thinking

You perceive a certain situation and only see two solutions and not in a continuum. The all or nothing approach results in strong emotions and behaviour.

Tip: try to scale your emotions/ or the situation which can guide you more to differentiate between two extremes. Be realistic and keep going towards a certain goal, also forgive yourself if you make mistakes. Try to develop an ‘And-And’ way of thinking. Instead of positioning feelings or situations as opposites you position them next to each other. For example, you can feel happy, and also have a hard time sometimes.

Important: The All or Nothing approach may sabotage goal-oriented behaviour. If you refuse to utilize some sort of error in your goals it is possible you give up more easily.

2) Catastrophic thinking

Is mostly applicable when visualising the (near) future and feeling negative about its outcomes.

Tip: Try to test your own predictions. You will never know how much fun a part can be if you don’t go because of your own negative predictions about the party in advance. Be prepared to take some changes/ risks, hence be realistic but also a prepared to fail (a bit). Try to understand that previous experiences don’t decide how your future will look like. For instance, even though a previous party was a disaster, that doesn't imply that the upcoming party will be as well (so take a chance).

Important: This way of thinking can even result in a self-fulfilling-prophecy. Thus, be careful of how you perceive a certain situation/event.

3) Disqualifying the positive

Always putting yourself, and your own actions down. For instance thinking: “Although, this specific thing went well, that doesn’t imply I am good at it. Maybe I was lucky”. This way of thinking results in neutralising or generalising events and thoughts.

Tip: try to be more aware of your own reactions on compliments and how you deal with positive developments.

Important: if you deny positive developments or experiences it is possible this will result in a negative self-image.

4) Emotional reasoning

You think something is to be true because you FEEL it strongly. You disqualify any other way of thinking/perceiving a certain events because you believe and/or feel the opposite. For instance, thinking: “I feel nervous, so something must be wrong”.

Tip: remember that emotions are not facts. Try to detect evidence or facts that support your feelings. Try to give yourself some time to (re)interpret the situation. Try to calm down and evaluate the situation again. Try to find some balance in your way of thinking and how you feel. Otherwise, you limit yourself.

5) Stigmatisation

You label yourself, or a certain situation without acknowledging that it also could be different. You can stigmatise yourself, your feelings or a situation. For instance: this is worthless!

Tip: Allow yourself some gradations. Try to appreciate that the world, and your feelings, are complicated. Try to avoid extreme labels and allow some gradations in your feelings, way of thinking and profiling of situations. Even try to appreciate that feelings and events are mostly quite complicated and try to perceive it in an 360 degree angle.

6) Exaggerating/ minimising

You evaluate yourself or a situation in an unreasonable manner. Exaggerating in a positive or negative way.

Tip: try to filter your feelings and way of thinking. Try to find some ‘evidence’ of the opposite or other ways of perceiving a certain situation/ feeling and try to see whether you can agree with this opposite view or at least allow yourself to even think about perceiving it from an opposite view (whether you agree or not doesn’t matter).

7) Crystal ball/ looking into the future

Try to remember that (almost) nobody can predict the future. Predicting your future has mostly something to do with fears and is based in feelings. It is like an urge to predict your future or future events because your way of thinking is based on negative experiences or negative feelings.

Tip: try to remember that encountering a situation with feelings based on previous negative experiences will not predict how things will go down in the future. Try to take some risks and allow yourself to encounter (new) things with an open attitude. Experiences based on the past don’t predict how your future will be.

Important: Try to avoid a self-fulfilling-prophecy and adapt an open attitude. Know that you are the only one who can control your own feelings and your attitude. So, you can also stop yourself when you are thinking in a downwards spiral way of thinking. You are the one in control, so use that to your advantage. You might surprise yourself.

8) Reading thoughts

Try to remember that assuming people’s thoughts is (mostly) impossible. Mostly your own feelings and thoughts already assume what other people are probably thinking. Your assumptions about others’ thoughts are mostly based on either fear or past experiences.

Tip: try to come up with some alternatives that you can add to what you think others are thinking. Don’t get stuck in just a one-way thinking model based on your own assumptions.

Important: Know that your assumptions ate mostly based on fears. Try to converse with others and let them explain their thoughts and feelings for themselves. That way, you know what others are thinking. Also acknowledge that projecting your assumptions onto others and what they think is also a reflection of your own thinking and feeling.

9) Overgeneralisation

Thinking in ways that are out of proportions which are mostly based on negative feelings. However, situations are never merely that extreme that they can be defined in extreme terms such as always or never.

Tip: remember ‘sometimes’ does not equal ‘always’. Try not to think in terms of: always or never. There are gradations in between always and never, but your feelings are that strong which results in directing your thoughts to never and always. Try to put things in perspective and allow yourself to postpone any judgement. In doing so, you allow yourself to let the edge of the sharp feelings you are experiencing. After a couple of days you might experience less extreme feelings.

10) Personalisation

In this case, you think that certain comments or events are only applicable to you or only refer to you. In doing so, you exclude other factors that might be involved which results in more extreme emotional feelings, for instance: feeling guilty or feeling hurt when you are not able to cheer up a friend, or to solve problems.

Tip: try to explicate your responsibility. What is it you are actually accountable/ responsible for. Also try to acknowledge what is in your power, to change something, and what isn’t. Also try to detect what your responsibility is and what not. Also try to find explanation why you can’t help someone, or why you feel hurt/ responsible and acknowledge that you are not the centre of the universe.

11) Musts and should haves.

You have a certain idea of how you and others should behave and/or feel. For instance, when a mistake is made or an uncomfortable situation occurs. Albert Ellis, behaviour therapist, remarks that demanding thoughts/feelings are the core problem of emotional problems. Ideas and feelings with the nature of MUST of SHOULD HAVE are problematic because they are extreme. These way of thinking are rigid and actually indicate that these thoughts are not realistic at all.

Tip: Try to adjust your language, and try to alter words. For instance: alter Must into wanting or wishing. Try to be flexible in attitude, words and ways of thinking and allow yourself not to demand. Acknowledge that everybody has a different set of rules, and thus, not everybody has the same values as you. Keep your own values, ideals and preferences but drop demanding ideas about how you, others and the world should be. Keep negotiating and keep your calm.

Important: know that when you have demanding ideas about how things should be you don’t create room for errors or mistakes. As a result you increase the chance of getting extremely emotional and will most likely get upset.

12) Low tolerance of frustration

A low tolerance of frustration refer to the mistake of assuming that things are ‘unbearable’ when actually they are difficult to bear. This way of thinking indicates that your struggle will be magnified and the related frustration becomes unbearable. Even though it is in your own interest to bear your struggle in the long term.

Tip: allow yourself some degree of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, but push yourself to also do/say or think things that are uncomfortable. Not every aspect can be pleasant. Try to do some exercises to work on unpleasant things, even when you are not in the mood for it. Because the final result will be more worth compared than the frustration you felt before. Rely on the knowledge that you will be able to bear your struggle but that the path to do so is not always easy. Trust yourself that you will get there.

Important: Acknowledging that you will never overcome your struggle has two results. 1: you will concentrate most dominantly on the negative feelings you have, which will make things only more difficult. 2. You will underestimate your own abilities to overcome your struggles.

Dearest Veerla,

We know that you have been 'extra' poorly of late so massive thank you for being thoughtful and taking the time to share this invaluable tool for reflection with us. Negative thinking is counter productive but, as we all know ,sadly can not be helped . I, for one,will read this information carefully and digest it :-) . All knowledge = empowerment.

Biggest hug

God bless


Thank you for sharing this Veerla. I know it might not be for everyone but I am sure this will be helpful for many. Sometimes it just helps to stop and think about how you think if that makes any sense. I believe how you choose to think can make a difference. Even if you can’t fix what’s broken you can choose to look at it differently. That being said it doesn’t make life a bed of roses just a little bit easier.
Thank you :slight_smile:

Great list, Veerla! Thank you so much.