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Families are complicated. They are made up of individuals all who have their own needs and expectations out of life. And then all of those individuals make up a group of people that kind of act as one unit and is, in itself, its own organism in a way.

Somehow each individual has to get their needs met on a daily basis. And the whole organism also needs to get its needs met as a family. This is a challenge.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. In today’s world they are made up in all different ways with various types of parental roles – sometimes with nuclear parents (one mom, one dad) single parents, or multiple parents, same-sex parents, grandparents acting as parents, foster parents, and I could go on. Young people living in various types of families at different ages still need attention and care. As you are growing up your needs will change and sometimes – well often times – that will create conflict within the family system.

We hear about this a lot in stories sent in to TeenCentral. Young people suffer when families are in conflict and so we want to provide some information that might help you understand more about why things are going the way they are and what you might be able to do to make it a little easier on yourself.


Cognitive traps are faulty ways of thinking that can reinforce our negative thoughts and/or feelings. The way we think directly impacts the way we feel and the decisions we make. The decisions we make include how we decide to behave in situations that are stressful. So learning about cognitive traps is really important first step in understanding ourselves and also our parental figures and other people.

These cognitive traps can impede effective communication. We are all very susceptible to using these mental short cuts when we are upset or having a passionate conversation with family/friends. Perhaps it was the last time that you wanted to talk to a parent about a tough topic…maybe it was the last time you lost a few points on a test at school…got picked next to last in gym class…or had a fight with a friend. In those moments we can become flooded with emotion and vulnerable to these negative traps. If we are mindful of them and able to recognize them, we can challenge our patterns of thought with facts so that we don’t get stuck in these cognitive traps.  

All or nothing thinking

 Also known as black and white thinking. Seeing things in terms of extremes while discounting possibilities of things in between. Things are good or bad, right or wrong thus disallowing a middle ground.

Mind Reading

Also called jumping to conclusions or fortune telling, sometimes we make assumptions that we know the outcome of events or what others are thinking with little to no evidence. 

Labeling or Mislabeling

Putting a fixed (and generalized) label, typically negative, on ourselves or others. Instead of describing a behavior or a comment that we do not like we might attach a label to the whole person. 


This is the opposite of personalizing things. It seeks to displace all negative thoughts/outcomes on to the other person.

Magnification & Minimization

Also called the binocular trick, there are times that we may overly focus on one mistake while also making smaller the positive contributions of ourselves or others to the situation. In essence blowing some things out of proportion wile shrinking the importance of others.

Should statements

These are the should/shouldn’t, Must have, Ought to’s that creep in to our thinking. He should have known… I ought to have…She must have. The strong, often inflexible thinking of how we think things ought to be, etc. 

Fallacy of change

Expecting others to change if we pressure them enough, barter, encourage, or repeat ourselves. This also can be accompanied by an assumption that if I can change ____, then I will be better/happier.

Control fallacy

This can go two ways, we may believe that we have no control over anything (external control) or that we are responsible for controlling everything including the responsibility for the feelings of others (internal control).

Always being right

This one is evident when a person will fight forever to prove that they are right and often puts rightness over relationships. Inherent in this is an unwillingness to compromise or see that both options might be able to coexist. 

As you can see there are a lot of assumptions wrapped up in to these cognitive traps. Similarly there are a lot of thinking in extremes. So what can we do about this?

Try not to react on emotion. Stop and consider these questions. Use them as JOURNAL QUESTIONS!

  • Ask, what evidence or facts to I have for this thought?
  • Is this really fact or is it opinion/assumption?
  • Is it possible I may be blowing any portion of this out of proportion?
  • Are there facts that contradict my thought?
  • Is this situation as black and white as it seems or could there be another possibility?
  • Could I be missing some information or misinterpreting something?
  • Am I looking at all the facts or just things that support my thoughts?
  • Can I practice acceptance of some part of the situation?