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What is Dysfunctional Thinking?

Danica Joan January 17, 2022

Dysfunctional thinking is simply having assumptions about ourselves, others, and life in general that work against you. Dysfunctional thinking also includes errors in information processing, based on unreliable thoughts and concepts, which can lead to unhealthy situations. These thoughts promote negative interpretations and behaviors and an inability to resolve conflict.

Where does dysfunctional thinking come from? We learned these unhealthy thoughts from our parents, teachers, and peers as well as from the larger society around us while growing up. They are typically so basic to our thinking and feeling that we do not recognize them as dysfunctional as all; we just take them as truth. Becoming aware of our dysfunctional thinking – as well as learning skills to change or overcome them with more logical, healthier thoughts – helps to view yourself, others, and your life in a more harmonious, realistic manner. Here are the most common categories of dysfunctional thinking:


Additional types of Dysfunctional Thinking:

Requiring “Specialness”: When you are not treated in a special manner; you conclude that the other person or situation is unacceptable. “She doesn’t say ‘hello’ to me…what a jerk.” When you do not get what you want or need; you conclude that it is not fair.” This type of dysfunctional thinking causes vacillation between feelings of specialness (grandiosity) and worthlessness, and can lead to becoming angry, whenever the specialness is taken away by someone not treating you in a special way.

Got to be Right: You have difficulty tolerating being wrong. This type of dysfunctional thinking presumes that you must be perfect in order to be acceptable. You can be quite defensive and intolerant of criticism. For example, when someone questions your way of doing something you reply, “I’ve been doing it this way for almost twenty years…I know what I’m talking about.”