Unhelpful thinking styles

When a person experiences an unhelpful emotion, such as depression or anxiety, it is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self-statements and thoughts.

Often there is a pattern to such thoughts and we call these unhelpful thinking styles.

One of the things we notice is that people use unhelpful thinking styles as an automatic habit – it is something we are often unaware of.

When a person consistently and constantly uses some of these styles of thinking, they can often cause themselves a great deal of emotional distress.

This information describes a number of unhelpful thinking styles. As you read through them, you might notice some thinking patterns and styles that you consistently use.

Some of these unhelpful thinking styles might sound similar to one another. They are not meant to be distinct categories but may help you to see if there is a pattern to your thoughts.

Mental filter

This thinking style involves a filtering in and filtering out process – a sort of tunnel vision, focusing on only 1 part of a situation and ignoring the rest.

Usually this means looking at the negative parts of a situation and forgetting the positive parts, and the whole picture is coloured by what may be a single negative detail.

Jumping to conclusions

We jump to conclusions when we assume that we know what someone else is thinking (mind reading) and when we make predictions about what is going to  happen in the future (predictive thinking).


This involves blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong or could go wrong, even when you may only be partly responsible or not responsible at all. You might be taking 100 per cent responsibility for the occurrence of external events.


Catastrophising occurs when we blow things out of proportion, and we view the situation as terrible, awful, dreadful, and horrible, even though the reality is that the problem is quite small.

Black and white thinking

This thinking style involves seeing only 1 extreme or the other. You are either wrong or right, good or bad and so on. There are no in- betweens or shades of grey.

Shoulding and musting

Sometimes by saying “I should…” or “I must…” you can put unreasonable demands or pressure on yourself and others.

Although these statements are not always unhelpful – for example “I should not get drunk and drive home” – they can sometimes create unrealistic expectations.


When we overgeneralise, we take 1 instance in the past or present, and impose it on all current or future situations. If we say “You always…” or “Everyone…”, or “I never…” then we are probably overgeneralising.


We label ourselves and others when we make global statements based on behaviour in specific situations.

We might use this label even though there are many more examples that aren’t consistent with that label.

Emotional reasoning

This thinking style involves basing your view of situations or yourself on the way you are feeling. For example, the only evidence that something bad is going to happen is that you feel like something bad is going to happen.

Magnification and minimisation

In this thinking style, you magnify the positive attributes of other people and minimise your own positive attributes. It’s as though you’re explaining away your own positive characteristics.

Where to get help

Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)

See your doctor

Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222

Mental Health Emergency Response Line (MHERL)

  • Metro callers: 1300 55 788
  • Peel: 1800 676 822


  • Rural and remote areas 1800 552 002


  • Unhelpful emotions can lead to negative self-statements and thoughts.
  • Unhelpful thinking styles cause emotional distress and create a pattern of behaviour.

This information provided by

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Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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