By: Marilyn L. Davis
“Positive thinking and negative thinking cannot operate at the same level in your mind, one needs to be the master and the one you feed it more will rule over the other.” ―
Stinking Thinking is Everywhere
In meetings, we’ll hear people talk about Stinkin’ Thinkin’ and know they’re talking about the faulty logic or the negative thoughts. While it’s condensed to a rhyming two-word saying, what is ‘Stinking Thinking’?
Let’s Look at Cognitive Distortions
Cognitive distortions are the thinking patterns that have developed over time that cause our misperceptions so that we don’t view life, ourselves, or others correctly. Some of these distortions cause us to interpret reality in a harmful way, towards either ourselves or others.
But what are the types of Stinking Thinking that get us in trouble, causes us to view the world through a distorted lens, or just doesn’t make sense when we analyze the thoughts?
8 Types of Stinking Thinking
Sometimes it’s as easy (and hard) as learning to perceive the glass as half full and not half empty. When we recognize faulty thinking and negative perceptions, we can make an effort to change. That’s one of the blessings of recovery.
So, what are the distortions and how do they show up in our lives?
Overgeneralization happens when you take one fact or even and make the outcome the rule. You don’t bother to verify the truth of your thinking. From an isolated situation where you were not successful, you create the impression of yourself that you will always fail. You know you are over-generalizing when you think in absolutes like Never, Always, All, None, Everybody, Nobody, No one.
A better way of thinking would be “Sometimes I have not been successful” and not, “I am never successful.” Over-generalization can fuel self-pity – stating “I’m the only person in treatment or recovery without a supportive family” is not valid but “Some of the people in the program have supportive families” is.
2. Global labeling
- I’m just an addict (as the only way you describe yourself)
- A job as “the Treadmill.”
- Just a cashier
- I am stupid, when you do not understand something, but are not “stupid” about other subjects.
- They are irresponsible (when referring to an entire group of people; not taking into account that some of them are irresponsible, but others are hard-working)
“Rehashing thoughts of painful events from the past or imagining negative events of the future is self-abuse and can be more destructive than physical harm.”
When we filter, we view the world through rejection, loss, or how bad our situation is. Recently, someone made this statement, “I never get any compliments here. It is always about the negative stuff I have done. If only I would be praised, just once, I would feel better about myself. This reminds me of my childhood and that’s a trigger for relapse.”
Just a day before, this person had been “praised” for their written work. Group members only asked him to elaborate on his answers, no one criticized what he had written.
Instead of realizing that the work was 99% on track, he filtered the questions and heard that his answers were wrong, and chose to focus on this aspect when asked for clarification.
Filtering only the positive
If we reverse the above example, then this person would have only focused on the 99% that they did well, and discounted the 1% that was incomplete. They would have filtered out any questions about their assignment.
4. Polarized or All or Nothing Thinking
This distortion does not take into account that people are neither “good” nor “bad.”
They are sometimes good and sometimes bad. They do not ultimately succeed or fail. They usually are successful at certain things and not at others, or they have some success and some failures.
Polarized thinking is like standing at one end of the football field or the other. One end of the field is good, the other is bad when the reality is that most of us are somewhere in the middle. Some days, we are not our best selves.
Do you find that you blame yourself for everything? If you find that you say, “I’m sorry, it’s my fault,” even when you doubt the words, that’s a form of self-blame. Did you get blamed a lot in the past? Did people tell you that you were responsible for everything? That’s probably not true, even though you are responsible for your life choices.
Or, it can even be a manipulative ploy to get others to start praising you and negating your apologies.
You are the center of the universe. You think that everything has something to do with you. Someone starts sharing about their life and you jump right in with your own examples of the same thing. Or the time you decided that you wanted to go out to dinner and then see a movie.
Your spouse does not want to leave the house for any reason. You may decide, “Nobody ever wants to do what I want to do.” This would be an example of overgeneralization and personalization.
Perhaps your spouse is sick. Maybe they need a good night’s sleep because they have an important meeting tomorrow. Neither of those reasons has anything to do with you.
You’re mind-reading when you assume that the rest of the world thinks, reacts, and feels like you do; therefore, you can read their minds because it is just like yours.
Mind reading creates assumptions about others based on your perceptions – not their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. When you find yourself mind-reading or assuming, simply ask someone precisely what he or she meant by what they said or did so, you are clear about their intentions, not your best guess.
8. Emotional reasoning
“Remember, what you “feel” and what is “real” are often very different.”
If you just make decisions based on how you feel and not using your feelings and your brain to make decisions, that’s emotional reasoning. For instance, someone confronts you in the group, and you feel trapped and embarrassed, and your inclination is to run away from these feelings.
Therefore, you storm out of the group, saying, “I won’t look at this stuff, it’s too painful.” You felt trapped, cornered and exposed. You grab your belongings and leave, with no direction, nowhere to go, and knowing that you face the consequences if you do not complete treatment.
However, you felt these things and had to get away from the feelings! You did not once think about the bigger picture, you let your emotions dictate what action to take, and your feelings aren’t the only criteria for making decisions—your thinking needs to be part of your decision-making as well.
Fearful situations create Emotional Reasoning as well.
You are anxious about a test, you begin to magnify the anxiety with
statements about how little you know about the subject; you start thinking that you are the dumbest one in the class, and your stress just soars through the roof.
Regroup – do you know the material? Let someone ask you questions, and as you answer him or her correctly, you may feel your anxiety lessen.
Asking others for their comments can help you put your opinions into perspective.
Recovery: Stop the Use and The Stinking Thinking
Learn to be open-minded and receptive to new alternative ways of thinking, besides the stinking variety. Early recovery teaches us many things besides how not to use drugs and alcohol and one of the most important things we can learn is to review and change that Stinking Thinking.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.