Ask a Therapist: On Jumping to Conclusions
Q: I seem to interpret situations in a negative way when I don’t have all the information – why might that be?
A: You are not alone! Unfortunately, most of us have a bit of a negative bias when it comes to processing in the absence of clear information. Your brain is designed to make sense of your experiences and it will try to do that – even when many of the details are vague or unknown. If you fill in the information that is missing with inaccurate negative ideas, those thoughts will impact your overall emotional and relational wellbeing in ways that are distressing or unhelpful.
Often, your thinking will jump to a conclusion that has little to no bearing on the facts or evidence and there could be a number of reasons that this happens. It may be that you are making assumptions about the motives of another person and interpreting their actions based on that assessment. You may have a history of other situations that somehow feel like this one and so your mind will assume that this time is similar to that time. Your personality will tend to see the world through a particular lens and jump to conclusions based on that patterning. You may even feel like you have enough to go on from previous experiences to justify your conclusion, even if that doesn’t take into account the particulars of your current circumstances.
Negative automatic thoughts are common and they can take the form of jumping to conclusions. Most of our intrusive and irrational thoughts are built on the foundation of the stories we are telling ourselves, consciously or unconsciously. We may not know it but we hold core beliefs – both helpful and unhelpful – that animate our thinking and our behaviours, even when we wish they didn’t. Identifying and learning to unpack and reframe our core beliefs is a big part of therapy. It can be important to have someone help in that process because we tend to be unaware of our own biases and patterns.
When you find yourself jumping to conclusions, ask yourself if the conclusion is based on facts. If there is no real evidence to support your interpretation, try to seek more information and/or reframe your conclusion to a healthier version of the experience so that you are not activated by inaccurate interpretations unnecessarily. If you are going to jump to conclusions, try to do so in a way that gives you the best possible version of events until you have concrete evidence to the contrary in order to guard your mental health.
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