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10 Emotional Traps That Cause Anxiety and Stress

Thursday 05 September, 2019.

Here are 10 Emotional Traps that lead to distorted thinking. Dr Burns has suggested ten types of distorted thinking that lead to problems with negative emotions.



Cognitive Therapy (CBT) can help you deal with anxiety and emotional stress caused by distorted thinking and negative emotions. You do this by changing the way you “see” things… And this involves changing your thinking…



Do the test below to see if you distort the way you think about things…

How many of these emotional traps have you fallen into?

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
    You see things as either black or white. If you are not perfect you see yourself as a total failure. You make one mistake at work and you are convinced that you are going to be fired. You get a B on a test and it is the end of the world. Your partner moans at you for not putting gas in the car and you decide that you are no longer loved. If you recognize yourself here then maybe you think of yourself as a perfectionist. This can make you terribly anxious and cause you to spend a lot of time being ashamed of yourself because, of course, no one is perfect.
  2. Labeling
    Labeling is an extension of the all-or-nothing emotional trap. You make a mistake but instead of thinking, “I made a mistake,” you label yourself: “I’m an idiot.” Your girlfriend breaks up with you and instead of thinking, “She doesn’t love me anymore,” you decide “I am unlovable.” You find an exam really difficult and think, “I am so stupid,” instead of a more reasonable “This exam is tough.”
  3. Overgeneralization
    The signs of this kind of distorted thinking that lead to an emotional trap are the use of the words always or never. You drop something and say to yourself, “I am always so clumsy.” You make a mistake and think, “I will never get this right.”
  4. Mental Filtering
    In complicated situations that involve both negative and positive elements, you always dwell on the negative. Your husband clearly enjoyed the birthday dinner that you gave for him but comments that the cake was a bit dry. You ignore all the positive comments and whip yourself for being a lousy baker. You get a minor criticism at work and filter out all the good feedback and convince yourself that your boss hates you and that you are going to be fired when all that is needed is a minor correction.
  5. Discounting The Positive
    Do you ever catch yourself thinking, “That doesn’t count,” or “Anyone could have done that,” or “That really wasn’t so good”? you do well on a test and think, “That doesn’t really count.” Your colleagues praise your presentation and you say, “It really wasn’t that good.” You win an award and think, “Anyone could have done that.”
  6. Jumping To Conclusions
    You assume the worst based on no real evidence. Dr. Burns describes two sub-categories in this emotional trap – mind reading and fortune-telling. In mind reading you decide that another person is reacting negatively to you. Two of your co-workers are chatting at the coffee machine and as you approach, they fall silent. Chances are that they have finished their conversation, but you assume that they were talking about you behind your back. In fortune telling you predict the worst possible outcome. A test is difficult so you decide you have failed.
  7. Magnification
    The emotional trap here is that you exaggerate the importance of problems, short comings and minor disturbances. Your toilet gets blocked and you imagine that you will have to get the entire plumbing system replaced. You forget to close a window when you leave home and it rains; you are sure that you are going to return to a flooded house.
  8. Emotional Reasoning
    This distorted thinking happens when you mistake your emotions for reality. Aren’t we all guilty of that? “I feel nervous about flying so it must be dangerous.” “I feel guilty about forgetting my brothers birthday therefore I am a bad person.” “I feel lonely, I must not be good company.”
  9. Should and Shouldn’t Statements
    This kind of thinking involves blaming yourself. You play well in a football match but miss one goal and berate yourself: “I should have got that goal. I shouldn’t have missed.” You eat a choclate and think “I shouldn’t have eaten that. I should lose ten ounds.” Other forms of this emotional trap include must, ought to, have to.
  10. Personalizing The Blame
    Here you hold yourself personally responsible for things beyond your control. Your child gets into trouble at school and you think “I am a bad mother.” You are late for an appointment because of a traffic jam and you personalize it “I must be irresponsible.” But people do understand, it happens to everyone and sometimes circumstances are beyond your control.

distorted thinking leads to negative emotions

Emotional traps or distorted thoughts are not based on reality. Not everything is negative or difficult! The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leaves you feeling BAD! Your thinking becomes more negative. And everything always looks worse. Much emotional, mental and physical stress is caused by negative emotions and feelings which do not accurately represent the situation.

If you can recognize when you fall into one of these emotional traps and prevent negative beliefs from forming around an actual event, then you have gone a long way to protecting yourself from the unnecessary stress, anxiety and depression that is sure to follow distorted thinking…

And that is what cognitive therapy is about – being aware or conscious of what we think and how it makes us feel. And then changing it…

Mindfulness based on cognitive therapy…

Click here to learn how to protect yourself from negative, distorted thinking.


Go from Emotional Traps to More About Cognitive Therapy


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