More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking
From: David Burns, The Feeling Good Handbook (Penguin, 1999), and David Burns, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (Avon, 1999).

1. All-or-nothing thinking
You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely." This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream!

2. Overgeneralization
You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!"

3. Mental filter
You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the positive
You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5. Jumping to conclusions
You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. Mind reading: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you. Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?" If you're depressed you may tell yourself, "I'll never get better."

6. Magnification
You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."

7. Emotional reasoning
You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reject the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be dangerous to fly." Or "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or "I feel angry. This proves I'm being treated unfairly." Or "I feel so inferior. This means I'm a second-rate person." Or "I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless."

8. "Should statements"
You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts" and "have tos" are similar offenders.

"Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn't be so stubborn and argumentative."

Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn't eat that doughnut." This usually doesn't work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Alber Ellis has called this "musterbation." I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.

9. Labeling
Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying "I made a mistake," you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." You might also label yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk." Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools," "losers," and "jerks" do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem.

You also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: "He's an S.O.B." Then you feel that the problem is with that person's "character" or "essence" instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and blame
Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I were better in bed, he wouldn't beat me." Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy.

Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back into your lap. It's like the game of hot potato -- no one wants to get stuck with it.

(website discovered by Daniel)


Thanks for the great article. I couldn't believe how many of them apply to me, especially the ones about all or nothing thinking and mental filter. It was like reading about myself on the page. It was nice to see it written down because now I don't feel as crazy with my way of thinking.

Thank again David.


Yes, many of those apply to me too. However, I think that I actually *am* responsible for certain *recurring* negative situations in my life, such as this immediate one of not having a place to live. I didn't plan things out carefully enough, and I acted on an unnecessary risk. I could have kept my apartment in the Village, and at least I'd have had a place to fall back on. Maybe it doesn't help for me to put the blame on myself, or even to blame anyone or anything for that matter, but I do think I need to be more responsible and more vigilant in the future.
stargazer you are being so hard on yourself. what would you tell a friend if they were saying the things you are saying? i am sure you would be much more understanding, and likely you would try to come up with solutions to the problem together. what advice would you give this friend? i can tell you i've done some things myself that i am not happy with but what's done is done and it can't be changed. all i can do is learn from my mistakes. it's ok to make mistakes. we all do it and hopefully we learn from them to improve our lives. be kind to yourself. maybe you can stop and think to see what you could do to change your situation for the better (i have not read your whole story so i can't give you any concrete examples). usually when something really bothers me i try to write out the problem and then i write out steps/ideas to correct it. i feel much better knowing what i could do to make things better. perhaps this is something you could try.


I think you're probably right that I have been a little hard on myself lately. I will say that when I posted those words earlier today, and similar words elsewhere on PsychLinks this morning, I was in a very bad space, and my outlook was unncecessarily pessimistic. If it makes a difference, I feel much better now. Also, everyone in my life has told me that I am done with the Village and that my life and work are here. So it's a matter of rising to that occasion.
i am glad you are feeling more positive, it makes a difference doesn't it? :) take advantage of it and put a plan in place to improve your situation! then you have something to fall back on. write a letter to yourself for when you are down, and list all the positives in it. then you know that you can see things in a better light, even if you are in a mood where you don't - the letter kind of proves in writing that things may not be as bad as you think. it's kind of positive self-talk for when you can't come up with it when you are down.


I suppose these all fit me. I never thought of these thoughts as being what is called twisted thinking, though in reality it really is.

Thanks for posting this David. If you get time, maybe you could post this at the fms forum?


Account Closed
This is a great article. I have discovered the one I use the most is the "go big or go home" one. Black and white thinking and perfectionist thinking. It tells me if what I am doing or wanting to accomplish is not at Nobel Prize winner status, don't bother.

I'm still working on it. :)

My goodness this article hit me between the eyes , :eek:

after scraping myself of the floor , I'll now go to the link Daniel gave 15 ways to untwist your thinking ; :bonk:
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