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Dysfunctional Thoughts

Danica Joan June 16, 2022

Your thoughts in response to a situation or event mostly determine your emotional state. For example, two people are caught in traffic while they come home from work. James believes he is trapped and employs such thought phrases as “I’ve got to get out of here,” and “How did I ever let myself get into this situation? I was an idiot not to take the other route.” This person feels anger, anxiety, and frustration. Lauren sees the situation as an opportunity to calm down, relaxes, and turns the radio on to listen to music. She says such things to herself as “I can unwind by doing some depth breathing” or “I might as well go with the flow.” This person has chosen a path of acceptance and self-soothing. In both people, the event is exactly the same, but the emotional states in response to the situation are uniquely different. You really do have a choice.

Your thoughts regarding a situation or event generate your mood and feelings. Therefore you are primarily responsible for how you feel. At the very least, you are responsible for exploring the thoughts connected to your mood rather that blaming it on the situation or on another person. It is thought accepting this responsibility that you will ultimately be able to take charge and have real control over your life. Keep in mind when you experience moderate or greater levels of anxiety you are especially prone to engage in dysfunctional thought on the next page.

  1. Dysfunctional thoughts are typically so automatic and subtle that you are unaware of them or their effect on your moods. You respond without being aware of what you told yourself.
  2. Dysfunctional thoughts often appear in coded form. One short word or image may contain a whole series of thoughts, memories, or associations.
  3. Dysfunctional thoughts are often irrational but almost always believed to be true. For example, catastrophizing “what if” thinking leads you to expect a negative outcome, one that is highly unlikely to occur. Yet, because the dysfunctional thought is sent so rapidly, it goes unchallenged.
  4. Just as you can replace unhealthy behavioral habits (such as smoking or drinking excess coffee) with more positive, health-promoting behavior, so can you replace unhealthy thinking with more positive, supportive mental habits.

Typical Dysfunctional Thoughts

The following are some typical dysfunctional thoughts that damage life experiences:

  • I should always be generous and unselfish

  • I should be perfect

  • I should be able to endure any hardship

  • I should be able to find a quick solution to every problem

  • I should never feel tired or lazy

  • I should always be efficient

  • I should always be competent

  • I should never be angry or irritable

  • I should always be pleasant or nice no matter how I feel

  • I am powerless or helpless

  • I am a victim or circumstances

  • I am unworthy. I am not good enough

  • I feel ashamed of my condition

  • I’m nothing unless I’m loved

  • I feel personally threatened when criticized

  • I don’t have the money to do what I really want

  • There is seldom enough time to do what I want

  • Life is very difficult – it’s a struggle

  • If things are going well, watch out!

  • I don’t deserve to be successful or happy

  • It’s useless to bother

  • My condition is hopeless

  • There is something fundamentally wrong with me

  • If I take risks to get better, I’m afraid I will fail

  • If I take risks to get better, I’m afraid I will succeed

  • If I recovered, I might have to deal with realities I’d rather not face

  • I can’t stand being separated from others

  • It’s very hard to be alone

  • What others think of me is very important

  • It’s important to please others

  • People won’t like me if they see who I really am

  • I need to keep up a front or others will see my weaknesses

  • My accomplishments at work/school are extremely important

  • Success is everything

  • I have to be the best at what I do

  • I have to be someone really outstanding

  • To fail is terrible

  • I can’t rely on others for help

  • I can’t receive form others

  • If I let people get too close, I’m afraid of being controlled

  • I can’t tolerate being out of control

  • I’m the only one who can solve my problems

  • I’m just the way I am – I can’t really change

  • The world outside is a dangerous place

  • Unless you worry about a problem, it just gets worse

  • It’s risky to trust people

  • My problems will go away on their own in time

What dysfunctional thought have you dealt with in the past or are dealing with now? Any of the above? Anything not listed?