The 7 Thinking Traps Personalizing: instinctively blaming yourself when things go wrong Externalizing: instinctively blaming other people or circumstances when things go wrong Maximizing and Minimizing: maximizing the bad and minimizing the good to let the negative take over and define a situation and your outlook Kay: Yes, I know what you mean. That's partly the reason I came here, to get out of that situation. Because when I walk into a room, everyone stops talking, and you feel the sympathy they have for you, and you don't want that. Pretty soon you get to feeling sorry for yourself. Because, if I had -- I haven't any worries. There isn't anything I should be upset about. Betty: You find, too, that it is very difficult to get away from the things that people think about you. If they always thought of you as being a very sensible or practical person, you get so that you just can't do anything that isn't sensible or practical, because other people will frown at you or express horror that you do something that they didn't expect you to do. Leader: So you tend to shape your behavior according to the expectations of other people. Betty: Very frequently, if I want to do something, I'll say, well, how will my parents feel about it, and I probably won't do it if I feel they won't approve. I confessed that I hated therapy. I hated my therapist. I wasn't getting any better and I didn't know if I ever would feel better. I felt guilty and broken and embarrassed. My friend thought for a few seconds and then said, It sounds like you need a new therapist. The suggestion brought forth immediate denials from me.

No, I didn't need a new therapist. My therapist had already invested so much time on me, and I owed it to him to fix whatever was wrong with me that was stopping him from being able to help me. My friend looked at me, shocked, and said, You deserve to have a therapist you like. I was, mind you, a full-grown woman in her thirties at the time, and yet I couldn't quite grasp what she was telling me. Mind Reading: expecting others to know what you're thinking without having to tell them Overgeneralizing: taking one piece of information and making a general rule about the world, another person, or yourself without evidence to support your findings Pessimism: taking a real problem and following an unlikely path to the worst-case scenario, and then getting stressed about it Emotional Reasoning: letting your thinking be led by your emotions and using your emotions as evidence that something is real Let's take a look at each one in action and how it hinders our problem-solving powers. You discover that your teenage son has taken out your car without asking. You go up to his room, knock on the door, and have a major blowup that leaves both of you upset. By all measures, a stressful situation. What's your takeaway? A person who falls into the Personalizing trap would immediately blame him- or herself that the argument got so heated and think, I've been on edge lately, and it's made me prickly with my family. Mary: This subject of people feeling sorry for you -- does things to you, when the situation may actually not be half as bad. Leader: You get to believe it yourself. Mary: Definitely, and soon you capitalize on it. Leader: Yes. Jane: It begins to be a very easy way out of your situation by feeling sorry for yourself. I know that I've done it many times.

And I've spent a lot of time alone, and I begin to think, home was never like this, and feel very sorry for myself. And I find it is a very easy way out of facing myself. Kay: Why do you have to go to school? Jane: He's got three years of school, and if he wants to practice, he's got several years of routine work. Why on earth did I deserve to like my therapist? My friend continued, Ijeoma. You are a queer Black woman. You are a single mother. You've been going through a lot of shit. Your therapist is a white man who doesn't seem to listen to you and has no reference point for what you've experienced in life. He doesn't sound like someone you'd want to talk to on a good day, let alone when you are in crisis. I'm pretty sure you are supposed to like your therapist. And right then I realized that the reason why I had insisted on going to this therapist over and over and over was because I did not believe that I was supposed to like my therapist, because I did not believe that therapy was ever designed for someone like me. I had devalued myself because traditional therapy had devalued me. Personalizing allows you to only see one source of the problem: what you believe you did to cause the situation. Blocked from your view are the causes attributable to circumstances or other people. If you're only seeing a subset of causes, you're only seeing a subset of solutions and missing out on the whole range of possible resolutions. Add to this the emotions that come with personalizing--guilt, shame, sadness, or embarrassment--which further cloud your thinking and you can see why this trap prevents you from solving problems effectively. A person who falls into the Externalizing trap would do the exact opposite and point blame at their son for the blowup, perhaps jumping right to, He's been disrespectful and prickly lately. The same dynamic is at work here as with personalizing, except this time, externalizers see only what the other person did or what the circumstances brought upon them, which means they are not seeing their role in the scenario.

This puts the locus of control of the problem outside of themselves and removes their ability to effect change in the situation. All else being equal, it's easier to change something in you than it is to change something outside of yourself. To add to the tangle, as we know, that feeling out of control brings with it the emotional upheaval of frustration over not having the resources you need or the ability to make things go your way. Maximizer/Minimizers might think, My relationship with my kid is a disaster, while completely overlooking the great time they had with their son just that morning. So he is in a position where he will earn nothing for about five years. Kay: And now you plan to work this fall, to begin work? Jane: Yeah, I plan to be the financial boost to him, so that he can go on. And I feel very strongly about not taking money from the folks, because my relationship with my parents is not a very good one. And my relationship with my in-laws -- I feel that if I take money from them, and they're in a position to give it, I feel I would have to answer to my mother-in-law for the rest of my life. That is a thing I would find very hard to do, because she would like to show you how to blow your nose, if you give her a chance. Kay: But actually, they're very human. Jane: They are, they're very human. And if you sit down and think about it, they're mothers, and they've spent all of their lives bringing up these boys and then we take them away from home. And their interests are elsewhere. Western therapy and mental health counseling had not been developed for me. The majority of mental-health professionals did not look like me, had not grown up like me, and would never face many of the issues around race, sexuality, or class that I faced every day. I was a fat, queer, poor, Black woman trying to seek connection, healing, and guidance from a straight, white, upper-middle class man who had been trained to help people like him. It was never going to work. And if I was ever going to feel better, I was going to have to start with the idea that I deserved care that made me feel better. I began the long search for the right therapist.

After some trial and error, I finally found a promising candidate. She was not Black--there were no Black therapists in my area. But she was queer, and she had experience working with issues around food insecurity and financial hardship. She openly identified as a feminist. Maximizer/minimizers often find themselves in an endless loop of problems that seem to show up wherever they go. For instance, they come away from their workweek thinking their job sucks. They resign, go to another job, and find that that one sucks, too, because they take their familiar habit of maximizing the bad/minimizing the good with them. They ditch one relationship because all they can see is the bad but not the good. But, of course, the next one will feel unsatisfying, as well, because they carry themselves wherever they go. They can't solve the finding the right job or relationship problem because it's really an internal thinking trap that's to blame. WHEN IS A TRAP NOT A TRAP? So, for instance, if you've been in the same relationship for twenty years and every day when you get home you ask your partner to give you a few minutes to chill out before they give you the to-do list, and yet every day when you walk in the door your partner hands you that list first thing, that's not a thinking trap. You are, indeed, not being given what you explicitly said you need. If you fall into a Mind Reading trap, you might think something like, I have a lot going on at work right now, and he should know I don't need this kind of conflict from him. And it's hard for them; I suppose when there comes a time that I'll be a mother-in-law, I won't be much better. Kay: Why do you feel, I mean, well, you must feel that he loves you, that he did love you. Jane: Well, he's not very emotional and I'm a very emotional person. I feel that he's quite reserved. It was a great deal of time before he showed any overt affection towards me in everyday relationships.