Social Anxiety Disorder Thought Patterns to Avoid

These are unhealthy thinking styles

Unhelpful thinking styles are thought patterns that have the potential to cause negative emotions and behaviors. People who suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD) often have these negative thought patterns.

One of the goals of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is to identify when you have these types of thought patterns and change the way you think. As part of CBT, you will examine the feelings that come about when you have these thought patterns.

Below is a list of ten ways of thinking that can contribute to social anxiety.


Black and White Thinking

Black and white thinking means seeing everything in extremes; there is no room for the middle ground and you see everything as all or none. Whatever the issue, there are no shades of gray when you are thinking this way. People are right or wrong and situations are good or bad.


Mental Filtering

Mental filtering means only seeing the negative parts of situations, or only seeing what is wrong with yourself. For example, you might leave a party only remembering that you forgot someone's name or spilled your drink.



Overgeneralization means believing that the results of one situation predict the results of all future situations. If your thoughts often involve the words "all," "never," "always," and "every" you might be overgeneralizing. Thoughts such as "I will always be a failure in social situations," or "Things never go well for me" are examples of how you might overgeneralize.


Jumping to Conclusions

Jumping to conclusions can involve both believing that you know what others are thinking (mind reading) and predicting the future (fortune-telling or predictive thinking). You might think things like "He must think I am boring to talk to" or "I am going to embarrass myself at this party."


Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is believing that if you feel something it must be true. You might believe that because you feel anxious, there is something in a situation to be feared. Emotional reasoning is irrational; feelings can have many causes and do not always reflect reality.



Personalizing involves blaming yourself for external events outside of your control. Whether you are partly to blame or not to blame at all, you believe that external events are entirely your fault. For example, a musician with SAD might blame a poor musical group performance on his own mistakes.



Catastrophizing means turning small problems into big ones or blowing things out of proportion. For example, you might think that giving a poor presentation at work will mean that your coworkers will dislike you and that you may lose your job.


Shoulding and Musting

Shoulding and musting are types of black and white thinking. In terms of social anxiety disorder, these involve thoughts such as "I must always do everything right" or "I should always agree with what people say."



Labeling is a form of overgeneralization. We label when we make global statements about people or situations based on specific circumstances. For example, you might label yourself as "boring" despite evidence to the contrary.

Labeling is unhelpful when evidence to contradict the global statement is ignored.


Magnification and Minimization

People with social anxiety disorder generally have a habit of magnifying good things about other people and minimizing good things about themselves. It is a style of thinking that goes beyond being humble; people with this thought pattern do not recognize their own good qualities and discount the bad qualities of others.

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.