Twisted Thinking

Once people have been suffering from depression for long periods of time they often suffer from “Twisted thinking” or “Irrational Thought Processes”. These like most symptoms and problems caused by depression and PTSD, are not necessarily noticed by the person who is actually “ill”.

These are however picked up by our peers or friends/family. Most of the time they are dismissed by “I see ‘x’ is feeling his/her usual happy self today” or “nice to see you so positive for a change!”.

Although flip remarks, they do point to the fact that your thinking has become twisted in the sense that you are looking at everything from the negative point of view.

The following is a list of ways in which people look at things with “twisted thinking”:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking… You look at everything in all-or-nothing terms.
  2. Over generalisation… You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. Mental filter… You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.
  4. Discounting the positives… You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities ‘don’t count’.
  5. Jumping to conclusions…
    • Mind reading: You assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there is no evidence for this.
    • Fortune-telling: You arbitrarily predict that things will turn out badly.
  6. Magnification or minimisation… You blow up things out of proportion or you shrink their importance inappropriately.
  7. Emotional reasoning… You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one.” or “I don’t feel like doing this so I’ll put it off.”
  8. Should statements… You criticise yourself to other people with ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts’. ‘Musts’, ‘oughts’ and ‘have-tos’ are similar offenders.
  9. Labelling… You identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying “I made a mistake” you tell yourself “I’m a nerd” or “a loser”.
  10. Personalisation and blame… You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that your own attributes and behaviour might contribute to a problem.

Now that you have read these 10 types of “twisted thinking” and thought to yourself ‘yer that’s me’. Here are some ways of “Untwisting your thinking”:

  • Put it in writing: Note down your negative thoughts; try to decide which of the ten sorts of twisted thinking you are involved in. Doing this will help you see the problem more realistically.
  • Find counter-examples: For example, if you think that people are always criticising you, don’t automatically believe that this is true: list the times when you have received compliments.
  • Befriend yourself: If you tend to have an interior voice that is critical, try turning it into the caring voice you would use if talking to a friend with the same difficulty. Don’t single out yourself for harsh treatment.
  • Test your assumptions: If you find it stressful to stand in a crowded social gathering for more than ten minutes, test your assumption by trying to stay there for fifteen minutes.
  • Think in increments: If you tend to see things in absolute terms, try to see them in more subtle gradations: a partial rather than an absolute failure, for example.
  • Talk to other people: If you think your problems are abnormal, ask others how they feel. For example, if you find meetings stressful, ask friends how they feel about them. Do they consider you a failure because of your feelings?
  • Clarify your meaning: If you consider yourself a loser, ask yourself what this really means. Can just one aspect of your behaviour justify this label?
  • Edit your thoughts: If you tend to think in emotive or absolute terms, try to rephrase your thoughts more coolly. Instead of ‘I must arrive on time’ say ‘I have a strong preference for arriving on time’.
  • Broaden the picture: If you feel overburdened with responsibility, think about all other factors that contribute to your situation.
  • Ask what the feeling is worth: List the benefits of a negative thought or type of behaviour.

(This work has been adapted with thanks from: The Feeling Good Manual, by David D Burns MD, 1989)

11 Responses to Twisted Thinking

  1. Mark austin says:

    I just do not know what to do anymore. Everyday I LIE to people to cover my own pain. I cry so much in private that my wife thinks i dont care. Work is starting to go sour too, my own fault i have alienated myself from others. reasons being my attitude and lies. the lies are so awful that im pushing everyone away. I dont ask for much but whats wrong with me? Im hurting so badly that one day falls into the next. Is this post traumatic stress disorder or is it something worse. I emailed earlier today

  2. Jon says:

    Greetings Andy ,

    I have just discovered your website . What I have read is pretty much what I am going through . At present I am still working but heading for a major breakdown , unless I do something soon . I work as a truck driver and have real problems , concentrating for long periods of time . I have been in psychological treatment for the past 18 months . Things seem to be getting worse and not better . Have you got any tricks or advice ? I was a British soldier for 10 years and served in the Gulf and Bosnia . I am currently living in Germany . Thanks Jon

  3. Jon says:

    Hi. I’m really struggling with a number of things at the moment and my doctor has been no help when I’ve spoken to him. I think I may be suffering with PTSD; is there any info you can give me of where I might find some help with this?

    • admin says:

      Of course, you can download anything you like from my website or you can email me direct and we can discuss this in more detail confidentially.

      Best wishes


  4. Nikki says:

    I really need a contact to talk to
    In Chichester area. Can you recommend
    Anyone? on waiting list on NHS but need
    To talk now!

  5. Simon says:

    Thanks for this site. I’ve been a submariner for 24 years, and went through a nasty divorce in 2006/7. I remarried a beautiful lady 2 years ago and our relationship together was as near perfect as you could get. I’m due to leave the forces in a year but I’m now struggling to cope. I can’t sleep, my libido is rock bottom, I find myself terrified that my wife will leave me, despite there being no evidence to even support that. I cry because I worry about everything and I can’t concentrate on anything.
    I identify with so much on your site, the feeling of madness, the dreams, helplessness, fear, and constant anxiety… I can’t think straight.. I know I need to speak to someone, and I did try to talk to my wife but she just seems to get irritable with me and I worry that she’s going to lose respect for me… I can’t explain how I feel properly, and honestly I’m really scared.
    I feel weak, but it’s good to see that there are others out there who can help. Thanks

  6. Gareth says:

    I was diagnosed with PTSD last month after suffering negative symptoms for the last 20 years following a plane crash I was in and which my partner died. I’ve been on anti-depressants for 20 years! Thank God Wales has free scripts. Finally may get some help EMDR or CBT but dubious it will work. Work is a nightmare (I’m a mental health nurse) but managers are not supported and I’ve read that I have to tell the DVLA about it too. Will it ever get better?

    • Andy says:

      Things will get better. CBT has helped me deal with my PTSD and put my life into context, it has not been easy but is possible. EMDR does help but it never did for me and there are other treatments that can help, please see my complimentary and alternative medicine CAM page.


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