By: Marilyn L. Davis 

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ is Everywhere! 


“We all need a daily checkup from the neck up to avoid stinkin’ thinkin’ which ultimately leads to hardening of the attitudes.”― Zig Ziglar


In meetings, we’ll hear people talk about Stinkin’ Thinkin’ and know they’re talking about negative thoughts. While it’s condensed to a rhyming two-word saying, what is ‘Stinkin’ Thinkin’? 


Stinkin' Thinkin' and the Negative Results marilyn l davis from addict 2 advocate 

Let’s Look at Cognitive Distortions


Cognitive distortions are the thinking patterns that have developed over time that cause our negative perceptions of life, ourselves, and others. 

Most of us have predictable negative thinking and automatically use these eight distortions just as we pick blue over red in our choice of clothing. Click To Tweet 


8 Types of Stinkin’ Thinkin’ 


The eight types of stinkin’ thinkin’ are easily categorized, and when we find them, we can change them. Sometimes it’s as easy (and complicated) 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?  


1. Overgeneralization 


Overgeneralization happens when you take one fact or event 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


Stereotypes occur with global labeling and are generally negative.

  1. I’m just an addict (as the only way you describe yourself)
  2. A job as “the Treadmill.”
  3. Just a cashier
  4. I am stupid when you do not understand something but are not “stupid” about other subjects.
  5. 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)


3. Filtering


a. Filtering Only the Negative


“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.”― Maddy Malhotra,  How to Build Self-Esteem and Be Confident: Overcome Fears, Break Habits, Be Successful and Happy

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. When I’m criticized, it reminds me of my childhood, and that’s a trigger for relapse.”

There are several cognitive distortions in this statement—over-generalization, personalization, and filtering.

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 focused on this aspect when asked for clarification.


b. Filtering Only the Positive


If we reverse the above example, this person would have solely focused on the 99% that they did well and discount 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.
  • No one ultimately succeeds or fails.
  • 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.


5. Self-blaming


Do you find that you blame yourself for everything? Frequently 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.


6. Personalization 


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 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.” When you make statements like this, it is 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.


7. Mind-reading


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, 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.” Eddie Capparucci, LPC. 

If you 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 you’re inclined 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


You are anxious about a test; you begin to magnify the anxiety with statements about how little you know about the subject. Then you start thinking that you are the dumbest in the class, and your stress 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.


Stinkin' Thinkin' and the Negative Results marilyn l davis from addict 2 advocate

Recovery: Stop the Use and The Stinkin’ Thinkin’


Recovery allows us to learn new skills, attitudes, and actions, but it is also a time to unlearn the self-defeating patterns of our thinking. Click To Tweet 

“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 more will rule over the other.” Oscar Bimpong 

Learn to be open-minded and receptive to new alternative ways of thinking, besides the stinkin’ thinkin’ 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 Stinkin’ Thinkin’.


Writing and recovery heal the heart.



Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available at Amazon, Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, and Indie Books. 



Stinkin' Thinkin' and the Negative Results marilyn l davis from addict 2 advocate


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