10 Examples of Biased Thinking in Anxiety

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One of the most challenging aspects of therapy is getting people to identify, accept and then change their pattern of thinking. It’s a complex business, partly because people have different thoughts ahead of an anxiety-provoking situation, but also during and after it.Before an event, people typically predict what’s going to go wrong. During it they will more often than not mind read, or second-guess what others will say, do or think about them. They may catastrophize and by that I mean they be thinking things are far worse than they actually are.** After** the event comes the rumination. This refers to the process of going over and over the event, picking over things in minute detail, and almost always coming to the wrong conclusions.

I describe these as examples of biased thinking because anxious perspectives shape them all. Distorted perspectives result in misinterpretation and misperception. Before you can tackle biased thinking you first need to recognize it for what it is. So, here are 10 common examples of biased thinking for you to consider or talk over with a trusted friend or partner.

Catastrophizing

“If I say or do something wrong I’ll never be able to show my face again.” This is an example of catastrophic thinking. It’s a disproportionate and unnecessary thing to think. Here’s another example. “He/she is 10 minutes late. They’ve had an accident or maybe they’ve left me.”

Mind reading

“I can see by the way they look at me they all think I’m stupid.” Nobody can actually read minds, so what’s happening here is a simple case of belief disguised as truth.

Accepting blame

“Why isn’t he/she answering? I’ve made them angry. How can I make things better?” Assuming responsibility when it isn’t yours is an anxiety bias.

Wishful thinking

“Oh, if only I could be more attractive/taller/intelligent/etc.” This bias assumes things would get better if some things about you were different.

Rejecting positives

“Why are they being so nice? Can’t they see I’m a loser?” Discounting positive things, or turning positives into negatives is one of the more destructive distortions in thinking.

Taking things personally

“Oh no, they are leaving early because of something I said.” Here’s an example of assuming that someone else’s behavior occurs as a direct result of your own. Another example could be, “They looked away, I’m boring them.”

Over-generalizing

“No one will ever love me until I learn to love myself.” Almost any thoughts can lead to over-generalization. So, an anxious bias might be that because you once made an error means you will always make errors is a case in point.

Labeling

It’s one of the most pervasive and potentially undermining features of the human condition. Labeling is a simple, clumsy and often inaccurate way of categorizing others (everyone is hostile, unfriendly, more clever) and ourselves (I’m useless, slow, stupid).

Emotional reasoning

Mistaking feelings for facts is another example of thought bias masquerading as truth. The fact that you may feel inadequate is not the same as being inadequate. “Everyone will be wondering why I’ve been asked to do this.” Maybe it’s because the person who asked you thinks you’re the best qualified.

Fortune telling

“I’ll always be seen as a loser.” To some extent we all predict the future, but this is based on logic. It’s reasonable to predict we’ll wake up the next day, the sun will rise, and so on. Fortune telling in anxiety is invariably negative. “I’ll always be alone.” “I’ll never get a promotion.” “I won’t be invited,” and so on.


Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.