A cognitive distortion is the mind’s way of convincing us of things that are not true. A cognition is a thought and a distortion is a variation from the truth. In other words, a cognitive distortion is a fancy way of saying that you are lying to yourself. These lies usually serve the purpose of reinforcing or exacerbating negative thoughts and emotions about yourself or situations you face or may face in the future. Confronting these and correcting them is often the focus of therapy, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It is believed that if you can correct these thinking errors then the negative emotions that are tied to them will decrease. Basically saying that how you think directly effects how you feel and in order to feel better you must think better. So with practice, you will learn to combat these distortions or lies and replace them with healthier thoughts, improving your overall mental and emotional well being.
Common Cognitive Distortions:
- Mental Filter: this is when we put focus on all of the negative details of a situation and disqualify the positives. By doing this you can continue to confirm the negative belief by attributing the positive experiences to luck or situation. This is also sometimes called magnifying and minimizing, meaning magnifying the negatives and minimizing the positives.
- Overgeneralization: this is when we make a large or general conclusion based on one single fact or incident. For example, because you get in an argument you assume that everyone is mad at your or does not like you or if you get turned down for one job, assuming that you will never get a job.
- Jumping to Conclusions: this is sometimes called mind reading. It is when we assume that we know what someone is thinking or feeling even when they have not said anything. Obviously it is not possible to read another person’s mind and our tendencies to assume the worst lead to continued negative self talk or thinking. Another form of this is fortune telling, or assuming that something will turn out badly or that something bad will happen when you have no evidence to support this.
- Black and White Thinking: also called all or nothing thinking. This is when thinking patterns exclude all of the middle ground. Thinking will tend to have the terms “always” or “every” or “never” in them. This leads to many incorrect conclusions and excludes many possibilities. It means you can only be perfect or fail or that you can only be good or bad.
- Personalization: this is when people assume that anything said or done is directly pertaining to them. It comes along with holding yourself responsible for things that you cannot possibly have any responsibility in.
- Blaming: the opposite of personalization is blaming, during which you take no responsibility and blame everything that happens on other people. This takes away accountability for your own actions and leads to a lack in making changes that will better your life because you have no control over the negative things that happen.
- Catastrophizing: this is the thinking pattern during which you always assume that the worst will happen. It is the constant expecting of disaster to strike, no matter what. This type of thinking often accompanies a large quantity of “what if?” questions.
- Could/Should: this is the thinking that focuses on rules and what is right. It is setting up unhealthy or unrealistic expectations of how we should live or what we could have done. It also sets up unrealistic expectations for how others should act and impedes the ability to form healthy relationships because people will not be able to live up to our expectations.
- Labeling: this is when we label ourselves based on negative things that have happened. For example, labeling yourself as a loser because one specific task was failed or labeling someone else as mean because they say something that you do not agree with.
- Emotional Reasoning: this is when everything that we feel is true. It is allowing unhealthy or exaggerated emotions to guide and drive our life despite logical proof that says otherwise. It is the assumption that your emotions reflect how things really are.
- Always Being Right: this is when we function under the mistaken belief that we are always correct. This means our opinions and actions are always correct and anyone who disagrees must therefore be wrong. It leaves no room for compromise and fosters arguments that cannot be won. It also places being right above the feelings of others.