Common (Detrimental) Thinking Errors

Here’s a fascinating book I recently finished reading: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression by Monique Thompson. What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)? It’s pretty simple. CBT is a type of therapy that deals with a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. There are specific goals in CBT and it has to do with a person’s present situation. For example, if you recently read something in the news that elicits fear, you will start thinking fearful thoughts. These fearful thoughts will leave you feeling afraid. This will affect your behavior. CBT has to do with these fearful thoughts, feelings, and behavioral outcomes.

This book, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression is not a Christian book. I don’t agree with all of it. But I think it is super helpful for Christians to use in a Christian way. This book is what I call common grace wisdom that will help us in our Christian life.

One section that really stuck out to me was a chart Thompson shared in chapter 3. I can’t reproduce the whole thing here, so I’ll put just a part of it below. These points have to do with common thinking errors that negatively affect our feelings and behaviors:

All-or-nothing thinking – Seeing things in terms of absolutes or extremes. Things are either ‘perfect’ or they are unacceptable. E.g. “If I get a bad grade, I’m a total failure.”

Black-and-white thinking – Ignoring the gray area. You know that you are using black-and-white thinking when you use the words ‘always’ or ‘never.’ E.g. “I will never be happy.”

Catastrophizing – Drawing conclusions that predict worst-case scenarios or cataclysmic outcomes. This results in believing that the situation is hopeless and dire. E.g. “If I don’t get this right, I will be ruined.”

Discounting the positive – Devaluing positive information or feedback. E.g. Someone gives you positive feedback and you assume they are ‘just being nice’ or have some ulterior motive.

Mistaking feelings for facts – Mistaking our feelings for reality. The feeling of hopelessness becomes belief that things are hopeless….

Personalization – Taking responsibility for events and situations that you are not actually responsible for. E.g. A friend doesn’t return your text, so you conclude that she is upset with you.

Focusing on the negative – Selectively paying attention to negative information in order to support negative thoughts and beliefs. E.g. Fixating on the memories of awkward moments during an otherwise enjoyable dinner.

Monique Thompson, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression, chapter 3.

Thompson lists a few more thinking errors. As you probably noticed, these thoughts are common indeed! We all think these kinds of things more or less. Later in the book Thompson helps a person move beyond those common thought errors. This book is a helpful read for those who struggle with these kinds of false thoughts! And as Christians, when we read resources like this through the lens of Scripture, we can appreciate the good and filter out the not-so-good. Certainly when we focus on the hope-filled truths and promises of Scripture, it helps our thoughts, feelings, and behavior in a way that glorifies our God.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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