Among the most popular and widely known topics of Psychology today is self care and mental health. Closely related to these subjects are toxic relationships and how to get out of them. You always read or hear advice from a lot of different sources about how you should “cut toxic people out of your life”, but what if you’re the one who’s toxic?
Just as there are people out there who are bad for you, you may be hurting yourself in ways you don’t even know. This may be through your dysfunctional way of thinking. Psychologist Dr. Aaron Beck (1979) famously wrote about the different kinds of negative thinking patterns — called “cognitive distortions” — he noticed a lot of his patients suffering from depression and anxiety adopted.
Listed below are some of the most common ones you yourself may be doing:
Overgeneralization refers to instances when you make (often negative) inferences based on a single event. Simply put, this happens when you take a bad experience and convince yourself that it will always be true. For example, when you are already running late to work or class and realize that you forgot something important at home, you think to yourself, “Oh, this is just my luck! Bad things always happen to me!”
Even though these are only little things, you let them ruin the rest of your day and start to see the negative in everything. What you fail to understand is that you don’t have to let it get you down, but you are choosing to dwell on it and apply it to every minor inconvenience or setback you encounter.
2. Emotional Reasoning
Another toxic belief a lot of people have is the belief that their feelings accurately represent their situation. They incorrectly assume that just because they are feeling bad about something automatically makes it true, when in fact, your feelings are not your reality. This happens when you think things like “I feel so unwanted, so my friends must not really like me,” or “This is upsetting me, so it must be a big deal.”
When you do this, you are letting your emotions control you when you should be the one in control of your emotions. Be careful to avoid this and don’t let your feelings carry you away. You shouldn’t let yourself believe everything you think, because sometimes, it’s all in your head.
3. Should Statements
This toxic belief is especially common for perfectionists or manic overachievers. “Should statements” refer to the rigid, often unrealistic standards you set for yourself and others, believing that a person should be this or that and no other way is acceptable.
When people do this, they become overly critical of themselves and those around them when they fail to live up to their high expectations. They are too hard on those who fail and feel the compulsive need to have everything be perfect all the time.
These people find it hard to take it easy on themselves or others and have difficulty coming to terms with their own or other people’s shortcomings. They may not understand that success isn’t everything, and that bravery and effort deserve to be applauded in spite of failure.
4. Magical Thinking
Also known as the “someday kind of mindset”, magical thinking is the toxic belief that everything will be okay once you achieve some sort of goal. A lot of people think to themselves, “Once I will be thinner/prettier/richer/smarter/more popular/etc, I will be happy and everything will work out.”
While it may not seem toxic at first (as it can be quite motivating in moderation), it can quickly become self-destructive once you allow yourself to feel that, no matter how hard you work, you will never have or be enough. You want to comfort yourself with the thought that the future will be better, but in doing so, you fail to see everything good about the present. You don’t know when to quit because you are never satisfied, and in the end, you might find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle of emptiness and discontentment.
These are just a few of the common thinking traps that a lot of people should be wary of falling into. Being more mindful of your thoughts and challenging your negative mindset is an important part of taking care of your mental health.
Love yourself enough to look after yourself. Know when it’s time to turn your brain off to your own negativity and stop your self-destructive ways of thinking. Don’t stand in the way of your own happiness.
Once and a while, stop and ask yourself if you would let someone else talk to someone you love the way you talk to yourself. If you find that the answer is no, then it’s time for you to make a change. Start living your best life today.
- Beck, A. T. (Ed.). (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. Guilford Press.