The Traps of Stinking Thinking

“Stinking thinking” is a collective nick-name to unhelpful thought patterns that result in negative feelings and energy drain

It happens at least once a month …well…ok, probably more than once:  I wake up in the morning, and no matter how bright and lovely it is outside – the light just doesn’t come through.   When my husband says “I love you” I feel that there is a “but” waiting to follow (it hasn’t followed yet.) When the phone rings, I immediately assume it is some sort of bad news (to the most part it is no news.)  When someone smiles at me on the street, an unkind “yeah, what do you want?” may cross my mind.   I may even start an argument, where there is no disagreement, or make a mountain out of a mole by magnifying the meaning or importance of another person’s words, tone of voice or gesture.  On these days, when I finally become conscious of my thoughts, I find a lot of negativity towards myself, others, and the future.   See, mental health professionals were not born free of automatic “stinking thinking”. These are natural patterns that seem to negatively affect all people, regardless of their demographics… AND… they are horrible energy robbers.   Our feelings and behaviors follow our thoughts.  It is simple: If your thinking is stinking so will your feelings; and when we feel bad about ourselves, others and the future we tend to act in instinctively protective ways.  We either withdraw or attack (sometimes in ways that may appear subtle.)  In reality, these behaviors often do the opposite of protecting us.  They affirm our worst assumptions and contribute to perpetuating our conflicts and our negative feelings. I would like to encourage you to spend some time each day noticing how your thoughts affect your feelings.   When you notice the uncomfortable feeling, it can be helpful to write down the thoughts you are having at that moment about yourself, others and the future.  Then assess how these thoughts are contributing to the way you are feeling. Below are some common Stinking Thinking patterns:Catastrophising:  Making predictions about the worst case scenario or result.  Thinking that the sky is falling, when in fact there is just a drizzle.  Want to feel a little MORE anxiety in your life?  Choose this one. All or nothing thinking (also known as black or white thinking): Judging ourselves, others, and situations as all good or all bad.  This one is a great way to make yourself feel angry and frustrated. Magnification and Minimization: Thinking of ourselves as “less then” others and of others as “better then” ourselves.  This one can really take a toll on the self –esteem.  Reverse it, and you have false pride, arrogance, and snobby attitudes that keep us isolated.   I like to remember this quote (attributed to Plato) when I detect any sort of M&M thinking in myself: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Yes, the “be kind” part can apply to being kind to yourself in some instances.)

When your thinking is stinking - so will your feelings.  And when we feel negatively about ourselves, others and the future, we tend to act in instinctively protective way.  We wither withdraw or attack.When your thinking is stinking – so will your feelings. And when we feel negatively about ourselves, others and the future, we tend to act in instinctively protective way. We wither withdraw or attack.

Jumping to conclusion: Similar to catastrophising, in that we are making assumptions and believing them to be true, without examining or clarifying the evidence.  A sub-category of this one is mind-reading –assuming we know what others are thinking.  Let me share a secret here: although some of our assumptions are found to be true, more often than not – when we assume negatively, we are following our worst fears about the situation, ourselves, or the other person.  If you want to minimize conflict in your life, begin by clarifying your assumptions.

Over-generalization Thinking of an isolated incident as a broad or universal rule. The use of words “always” and “never” are the marks of this pattern. This one is a real drag and can lead to frustration, anger and depression. (Really, isn’t “some-times” much more realistic and less upsetting?)

Personalization: Taking responsibility for things outside of our control or influence.  This leads to self-blame, shame, guilt, stress, and overwhelm.  This is one of the ways in which we maintain a sense of control.

Have you noticed how many of these patterns are a result of failing to see the full picture?

Labeling: Sometimes comes in a form of name calling, in other times – in the form of complements.  We do it to ourselves and others, and base it on a specific incident or behavior.  Labels (both negative and positive) get us stuck in a specific view point (about ourselves and others) that does not consider the wide range of behaviors, thoughts, feelings, failures and success we all experience.  Labeling yourself contributes to feeling stuck and discouraged. Labeling others takes away from understanding and compassion (which are the building blocks of peaceful relationships.) Emotional Reasoning: Regarding feelings as facts. For example, “I feel anxious – therefore I must be in danger.”  Don’t believe everything you feel or think.  Examine the evidence. Should and Must: Using these in our thinking is a way to put demands on ourselves and/ or others to comply with unreasonable or irrational expectations and “rules” that don’t always apply to the situation in hand. These are merely  unexamined preferences and perception that we develop to have a sense of order and control…and once again – they help us achieve the opposite.  As much as possible, catch your shoulds, shouldn’ts, musts and mustn’ts and bring your attention to what IS instead.

Bring some color back into your life by letting go of your “shoulds” and noticing what IS.

There are a couple of web resources with lots of free content, to help you work on changing your unhelpful (stinking thinking) patterned: has various FREE CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) worksheets and audio guided meditations on self-compassion, loving kindness, and more. : H

The Work was developed by Byron Katie and has become a phenomenon in the self-help world.  A cognitive technique to help you transform negative thoughts:

 Hope you enjoy this process of self exploration and discovery.  Be kind and gentle to yourself and keep on keeping on!

More info at

____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Photography for this blog was provided by Slava Bowman.  Find more of her work on

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Yael DiPlacido, LCSW


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