Unhelpful Thinking Patterns 10/11 - Judgements & Labelling
Updated: Aug 4
This is the tenth part of a series looking at common unhelpful thinking habits. These are patterns of thinking that our minds can slip into as a way of coping with challenging situations. You can read more about this in my earlier post here.
Everyone makes judgement about things, other people, and themselves (it’s a natural thing to do!), but there are times when it can take you into the territory of an unhelpful thinking pattern if it is starting to impact on your life.
This way of thinking is when we form an opinion of ourselves or other people based on a single data point, for example “I’m a failure” because you failed a single test or “they’re incompetent” because they made a single mistake. We fall into a habit of defining the individual (ourselves or others) based on our emotional reaction to a single event, rather than seeing it as a thing (behaviour) that someone did.
This thinking habit has similarities with the black and white thinking habit (here) as the labels we apply offer no room for manoeuvre outside of the narrow, restrictive opinion. For example, you might have a difficult interaction with someone and label them as an idiot, continuing to judge them in all subsequent interactions through that lens which will obviously influence how you respond to them, potentially causing even more difficulties. Another example could be where we make a faux pas in public and then label ourselves as socially inadequate, which will then potentially cause us to feel more anxious in future social situations, but that anxiety then leads to more feelings of discomfort for us.
Applying labels to ourselves can lead to us feeling anxious, depressed and sometimes even shame; applying labels to others can lead to us feeling frustrated, angry and even sometimes disgust. In this thinking pattern we are using highly emotional (and often inaccurate and unreasonable) language to describe a person in a global sense – ie “I am stupid” as opposed to “I did a stupid thing”; “he’s selfish” rather than “he did something selfish”. There is an element of the mental filter (see here) about this thinking pattern, as once we have applied the label we then tend to filter out any contradictory information, which then makes the label seem all the more believable to us.
There is a simple way of working to overcome this thinking pattern, which is to notice and objectively describe the behaviour that we observe in ourselves or the other person – "I am late to work on this occasion"; "she failed this test"; "he spoke to me brusquely on this occasion" – rather than making a global assessment of our/their character. By using this objective language, stating facts rather than emotionally fuelled opinions, we can find that fewer negatives are triggered for us and we can feel a greater sense of resilience to manage whatever the challenging situation is that we are facing at the time.
And don’t forget to show kindness to yourself – slip ups are inevitable, so be open to forgiving yourself on the occasions that you fall back into the old habit; after all, you don’t want to wake up your inner critic after working so hard on that in my earlier post!