Cognitive Distortions are thoughts that cause reality to be inaccurately perceived. These inaccurate thoughts are usually reinforcing negative thoughts or emotions. This can lead to an anxious or depressive mental state when they combine to give an individual a negative outlook on their world. Cognitive distortions are also known as automatic thoughts. These thoughts are ingrained in individuals and affect the way they think. It takes time and patience to overcome these automatic distortions.
Here is a list of just a few of these distortions.
- All or nothing thinking:
- Also known as black and white thinking, it is ignoring all forms of in between or the ‘shades of grey’. This thinking also involves using absolute terms like ‘always’, ‘every’ or ‘never’. The thing to remember is that there is usually some grey in a situation and all or nothing thinking leads an individual to ignoring that.
- Also known as categorizing, it is placing judgements or evaluations on an event, person or thing rather than describing the item or person. This thinking usually involves absolute terms such as ‘always’ or ‘never’. Overgeneralization causes individuals to ignore the facts and evidence in favor of their distorted vision.
- Mental filter
- This filter allows an individual to focus on a single detail (usually negative), about an event or person so that they overlook any positive. This thinking blocks out what doesn’t ‘fit’ with our ‘filter’ and is also known as looking through dark blinkers or ‘gloomy specs’. A mental filter causes individuals to ignore the positive or anything outside of what that filter provides.
- Disqualifying the positive
- This distortion causes individuals to overlook their positive experiences in favor of negative ones. It is also known as compare and despair, seeing only the good and positive aspects in others and comparing ourselves negatively against them. This can often be seen via Facebook, where people compare their everyday life to their friend’s ‘highlights reel’.
- Jumping to conclusions
- Mind reading
- Mind reading is assuming we know what other people are thinking, usually about ourselves. This distortion causes people to believe they can predict a person’s reaction or attitude.
- Fortune teller error
- Fortune teller error is assuming that a situation is going to end negatively despite lack of evidence. This can also be known as a self-fulfilling prophecy; because you assume a situation won’t end well, oftentimes it doesn’t because of that mindset.
- Mind reading
- Also known as exaggeration or catastrophizing, this distortion causes individuals to overlook the one side in favor of the other. For example, overlooking the negative in a person by exaggerating the positive. It’s also known as making mountains out of molehills or imagining and believing that the worst possible thing will happen.
- Emotional reasoning
- This distortion causes individuals to take feelings as fact and base your decisions and actions on them. An example would be ‘I feel bad so it must be bad’. Individuals use this distortion to often put off doing something because they don’t ‘feel’ like doing it.
- Absolute Statements
- Absolute statements are words such as ‘should’, ‘must’, or ‘ought’. These statements raise expectations, and if these expectations are not met anger, frustration and disappointment occur. Absolute statements set up unrealistic expectations and can make people feel guilty.
- Labeling & Mislabeling
- Labeling is another form of black and white thinking. This is done by assigning either good or bad labels to yourself or other people. Again, there are no shades of grey and outside circumstances are not taken into consideration.
- Personalization is blaming yourself or taking responsibility for something that wasn’t your fault. Blaming others for something that is your fault, also falls under this category. This distortion is taking things personally when perhaps they didn’t involve you in the first place.
- This distortion is when current situations or events trigger upsetting memories and lead you to believe that the danger is in the present rather than in the past. This causes distress in the present when the situation isn’t in the present, but in the past.
Perhaps after reading through these cognitive distortions, you realize that your way of thinking tends to lean towards these distortions. The first step to fixing these distortions is to realize that you have them. Please read the following article, Cognitive Distortions: Fixing the Problems for information on how to retrain your thinking away from distorted thoughts.
From: The Feeling Good Handbook
By: Dr. David Burns