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What are your irrational thoughts?

We all have them. But our thoughts are so much a part of us and what we consider normal or "just the way things are", that it can be hard to step back and identify our own irrational thoughts. It's important that we do though. Irrational thoughts can cause a lot of problems. They can contribute to anxiety, depression, relationship problems, anger issues, addictions, and really any emotional, mental or behaviour problem you can think of. The more we try to look at our thoughts objectively, the easier it can be to identify faulty ones. Dr. Sherrie McGregor notes in her article, Identifying Irrational Thoughts, that "once you can label and dissect an irrational thought, you take away some of its power. The longer these patterns are allowed to continue, however, the more likely they are to become ingrained, lifelong habits".

Identifying irrational thoughts is a key component of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The basis of CBT is that other people, events or things in our lives are not what upset us, but rather that it's the MEANINGS WE GIVE TO THEM. For example, let's say you want to make a chicken casserole for dinner tonight. You have your heart set on it, you go to the grocery store, get all the ingredients for your casserole, except when you get to the meat department, you discover they're all out of chicken. It's 5 minutes to closing and you realize you can't make the dinner you had hoped for tonight. There are many ways you might respond to this.

You might have one of these responses:

a) Have a panic attack or get very angry. You might yell at the store attendant or even call for the manager and yell at him or her too.
This would be an example of catastrophizing, which is a type of irrational thinking pattern in which you always look for the worst in a situation and make a mountain out of a mole hill. Your reaction to a small disappointment is indistinguishable from the reaction you might have to a bigger disappointment, such as going home to discover someone burned your house down. Chicken not being in stock might not seem like such a catastrophe when you compare it to a real disaster.

b) You might get very upset after you tell yourself that you have bad luck ALL the time. Nothing EVER goes right in your life. You start feeling very down and hopeless. You decide you don’t even want to cook again for a long time.
This could be considered black and white or “All or nothing” thinking. You forget all the things that go right in your life and only focus on the things that go wrong. Thinking irrationally that this event represents ALL events in your life, in turn affects your mood and brings you down.

c) You blame yourself for not getting there earlier or for not going to another store, they didn’t have chicken in stock another time, about 5 months ago, you should have known better!
Personalization
is at play here at the very least. That means that you attribute events that are out of your control and that truly have nothing to do with you, as being caused by you. These can be good or bad events. In this case, a bad event is seen as your fault.  A lack of flow in logic is also evident. Just because the store didn’t carry chicken one other time 5 months ago, doesn’t mean that they never carry chicken or that you should’ve known they wouldn’t have it on this particular day.

c) Be disappointed but quickly decide upon something different to buy for dinner. It’s not a big deal, you can make your chicken casserole another night this week.
This is a healthy reaction. Although you are disappointed, you don’t have any irrational thoughts that cause you to behave or feel badly. This response is flexible and allows you to put this event in perspective and go with the flow.

As you can see, our thoughts are very powerful and the same event can be given many different meanings. Try thinking about what your own irrational thoughts might be or discuss them with your therapist. If you don't have a therapist, but want to start getting help, go to our Help section to learn how you can get started in treatment.

Some other irrational thoughts include grandiosity, minimization, emotional reasoning, and magical thinking. To learn more about what irrational beliefs are, and steps you can take to refute them, check out info on CBT on the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health website. Also, find CBT treatment at a location near you on e-mentalhealth.ca