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15 thinking styles that lead to massive anxiety 1/15: Filtering

Thoughts hold the key to many types of anxiety! It is how we think about things that defines them as problems or not. Anxiety thrives on distorted thinking. In this series of blogs we are going to explore 15 types of distorted thinking. The topic for this first blog is “filtering”.

“All I could see was negativity everywhere. Every time I was given the slightest criticism I couldn’t see the good in anything that I had done that day. It was all doom and gloom. If I made the slightest mistake I was the worst person who ever lived. No body told me this, they didn’t need to, I told myself!”

Many of us can feel this way, sometimes for reasons hard to locate we can feel negative, critical, black and white or definite. When criticized or presented with something that could be better we can throw the baby out with the bath water.

Although we can all go through this and some of us will be more sensitive than others about certain issues, long term constant thinking like this can make us rigid, miserable and anxious!

The Power of Thoughts;

Thoughts have a huge impact on how we feel physically and emotionally and on how we behave. Negative thought distortions can be so common that nearly everyone does some of them. Yet, in combination or if drawn out they can lead to severe anxiety and depression.

This blog post will help readers identify the twisted thinking style known as filtering and help them with rational comebacks to dis-identify from those thoughts.

While readers may not see themselves in this or in every distorted thinking style they may see others or partially identify. Read the rational comeback for helpful tips.


This distortion is characterized by a sort of tunnel vision – looking at only one element of a situation to the exclusion of everything else. A single detail is picked out and the whole event or situation is colored by this detail.

A carpenter who was uncomfortable with criticism was praised for the quality and complexity of his recent detail drawings but was asked if he could get the next job out a little quicker.

He went home depressed, having decided that his employer thought he was dawdling. He selected only one component of the conversation to respond to. He simply didn’t hear the praise in his fear of possible deficiency.

Each person has his own particular tunnel to look through. Some are hypersensitive to anything suggesting loss, and blind to any indication of gain.

For others, the slightest possibility of danger sticks out like a barb in a scene that is otherwise warm with contentment. Depressed people tend to select elements suggesting loss from their environment, those prone to anxiety select danger, and those who frequently feel angry select evidence of injustice.

The process of remembering can also be very selective. From our entire history and stock of experiences, we may habitually remember only certain kinds of events. As a result, we may review our past and re-experience memories that characteristically leave us angry, anxious, or depressed.

By the very process of filtering we then magnify and ‘awfulize’ our thoughts. When one pulls negative things out of context, isolated from all the good experiences around us, we make them larger and more awful than they really are.

The end result is that all our fears, losses, and irritations become exaggerated in importance because they fill our awareness to the exclusion of everything else.

Key words for this kind of filtering are ‘terrible…awful…disgusting…horrendous’, and so on. A key phrase is ‘I can’t stand it’. This is really bad for us as it creates general anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks and may make PTSD, OCD and Phobias worse!

Why we filter;

The reasons for filtering may be as plentiful as the people who do it. But some of the main reasons we might employ this kind of filtering or magnifying can be:

Growing up in a critical home or environment. Children are like sponges and if they are always criticized then they will think that they can’t do anything right and that things must be perfect.

Perfectionism is the erroneous belief that unless something is done perfectly then it isn’t worth doing at all. This links to our next type of thought distortion Polarized Thinking.

If we have these kinds of beliefs about ourselves or about how things need to be then any set back is going to be magnified and amplified.

Filtering can also come from being in a victim mentality where we see others as all powerful and ourselves as passive. When this sets in we don’t see how our response in relationships co-create issues and we may magnify bed events to the exclusion of positive ones.

Filtering comeback                                                                                                      Shift focus                                                                                        No need to magnify

Filtering is being stuck in a mental groove, focusing on things from the environment that typically tend to frighten, sadden, or anger us. To conquer filtering it is necessary to deliberately shift one’s focus.

We can shift focus in two ways: First, place the attention on coping strategies to deal with the problem rather than obsessing about the problem itself.

Second, categorize the primary mental theme as: Loss, Injustice, etc. If the theme is loss, focus instead on what is present in the value of life.

If the theme is danger, focus on things in the environment that represent comfort and safety.

If the theme is injustice (including stupidity, incompetence, etc.), shift the attention to what people do that does meet with approval.

When we are filtering we usually end up magnifying our problems. To combat magnifying, stop using words like terrible, awful, disgusting, horrendous, etc.

In particular, banish the phrase ‘I can’t stand it’. We can stand it, because history shows that human beings can survive almost any psychological blow and can endure incredible physical pain.

We can get used to and cope with almost anything. Try saying phrases such as ‘No need to magnify’ and ‘I can cope’.

When we are awfulizing moments of our day or moments from the past stop and ask yourself how many moments went into this? Versus how many nice or good moments were experienced in that day/week/period.

Ask how much magnifying have we done to make these comments, moments or whatever seem so big.

Often we let the small comment or moment sidetrack the rest of our perception, but if we accepted that nothing and no one (including ourselves) can ever be perfect we can allow for moments of imperfection.

Demanding that we or anyone/thing else is perfect creates suffering for ourselves and others. Dropping this can drop suffering and allow us to see things as they really are.

Filtering is one of 15 common types of distorted thinking. In our next blog we will be discussing Polarized thinking.

Other Distorted Thinking styles are also extremely important for how we deal with and suffer from anxiety. Distorted thinking styles include: Filtering, Polarized Thinking, Over-generalization, Mind Reading, Catastraphizing, Personalization, Control Fallacies, The Fallacy of Fairness, Emotional Reasoning, The Fallacy of Change, Global Labeling, Blaming, Shoulds, Being Right and Heaven’s Rewards Fallacy.

For those that need help with severe anxiety, please do remember you can contact Anxiety Ireland to chat on the phone with one of our counselors to access the best way to get anxiety help.

If you are unsure about what is going on for you and may believe it to be anxiety, maybe try take our anxiety quiz on our website.

Many thanks for reading and if this was useful please like, comment or share.


Team Anxiety Ireland

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