Stinkin’ Thinkin’, otherwise known as thinking negative thoughts, is a common but unhelpful pastime. Imagine all the extra energy and creativity we could muster if we weren’t bogged down by thoughts of doom and gloom. Let’s have a look at some of the most common forms of “Stinkin’ Thinking.”
• Black-and-white thinking
In this form of self torture, everything is either black or white, good or bad. Common examples include: “It’s really bad that we didn’t get that house at auction.” Yes, it might be disappointing that you couldn’t afford the house, but another house will come up, and it might even be better.
Or, “Getting a dog is a bad idea. I’ll ruin the garden.” Of course, the puppy may ruin part of the garden initially but it will also give you years of joy.
This is a favorite among Stinkin’ Thinkers. Here a single event colors the rest of your day, week, or even life.
Favorite topics: “I failed the math test, I’ll never get a good job now.” Or “I ate half a packet of Oreos. I’m supposed to be on a diet. I’ll never lose any weight. I’ll be fat all my life.” Gee, I could go on so easily, but you get my drift!
• Ignoring the positives
No matter how bad your life is, it is possible to find at least one positive aspect to it. But Stinkin’ Thinkers can’t, or rather, won’t. Since there are numerous examples of people coming through traumas and stating publicly that the whole experience made them stronger and that they would go through it all again to gain what they have learned, it is possible to remain positive in just about any situation. The act of counting your blessings is an old one but it hasn’t lost any of its potency over the years.
Catastrophizing is all about blowing things up out of proportion, or alternatively, minimizing any good things in your life. So if your son pulls out of school early, a catastrophizing parent might say: “I’ve tried to do my best for him, but now he’s left school, he’ll never get a proper education, or a proper job and it’s my fault. I should have got him a tutor. We can’t afford to keep him forever, and he’ll end up on the streets. You can see how easily this train of thoughts takes hold and the escalating stress levels that accompany it.
Alternatively, catastrophizers also minimize their own skills or the good in their life. That same son may be a very caring and loving young man, who gets on well with young and old alike, but all those people skills are ignored by the catastrophizer. The fact that the son loves his parents and doesn’t want to move to another state is not seen as a positive, but is buried instead under the “catastrophe” that he has decided that at this point in his life, he wants to do something other than attend school.
• Wearing the “blue” glasses
This is a term that refers to the act of dwelling on one negative detail about a situation, so that the entire scenario takes on a negative and depressing hue. For example, Leanne’s friend is less than ecstatic when Leanne tells her the news that she is going back to her ex-boyfriend for the third time. Because Leanne’s friend isn’t as happy as Leanne would like her to be, Leanne becomes obsessed by this, and ultimately gets so angry with her friend that she ends the friendship. Leanne has let one incident where two friends don’t agree cloud her whole opinion of the friendship to the point where she pulls the plug on it. She has effectively put on the “blue” glasses and refuses to see all the positive aspects of the friendship.
• Mind reading
A favorite among Stinkin’ Thinkers, Mind Reading involves assuming that people are reacting in a negative way about you without any evidence to back it up.
• Fortune telling
Closely related to Mind Reading, Fortune Telling involves predicting that things will turn out badly, with no evidence to back it up other than “things always do.” Of course, thinking that “things always do” is a form of Overgeneralization.
• The “Should” problem
The word “should” is perhaps one best left out of your life. It is mainly used to criticize yourself and others and serves no real useful purpose. “I should have got tutoring for James, and now he’s pulled out of school!” James may have pulled out of school anyway. Blaming yourself with a series of “shoulds” keeps you stuck and less likely to be useful in the present moment.
“He should have addressed his drinking problem earlier and now he’s been involved in a car accident.” Yes, it would have been best if the drinking problem had been addressed earlier, but it wasn’t and now the present situation must be dealt with. “Shoulds” keep up locked in the past.
Calling yourself an “idiot” or a “fool” or any other derogatory name not only dents your self esteem but derails you from looking more closely at the problem and finding a better way to go about it. Be kind to yourself and drop the names. Names will actually hurt you in the long term.
• Playing “Atlas”
This game refers to shouldering responsibility for all the things that go wrong in your life, regardless of whether or not you are to blame. This includes being hard on yourself for getting the flu or not accepting that your divorce involved the behaviors of two people, not just you. Or you may believe you were retrenched for something you did, rather than being able to see that powers other than yourself were involved in the decision. Playing “Atlas” is certainly a hard cross to bear through life.
Next blog, we will look at ways to unravel “Stinkin’ Thinking.”
Contact Beth McHugh for further assistance regarding this issue.