What’s a cognitive distortion and why do so many people have them?
Cognitive distortions are ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These irrational thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking making us sound irrational. We feel more badly about ourselves.
For instance, a person might think, “I always fail when I try to do something new; I therefore fail at everything I try.” This is an example of “black or white” (or polarized/all or nothing) thinking.
However, there are some instances when you may want to think back what your brain is conveying to you. By learning to correctly identify this kind of “thinking” a person can then answer the negative thinking back, and refute it. By disputing or refuting the negative thinking over and over again, it will gradually diminish overtime and be automatically replaced by more rational, balanced thinking.
The Most Common Cognitive Distortions
In 1976, psychologist Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions and in the 1980s, David Burns was responsible for popularizing it with common names and examples for the distortions.
A person engaging in filtering (or “mental filtering) takes the negative details while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant event and dwell on it. When a mental filter is applied, the person focuses on the negative filtering the positive ones.
2. Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking)
In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white”. We have to be perfect or we are a complete failure, there is no middle way. A person with black-and-white thinking sees things only in extremes.
It is a course of thinking where you apply one experience and generalize to all experiences, including those in the future. If something bad happens just once, they expect it to happen over and over again.
For instance, if a student fails on one paper in one semester, he concludes that he is a terrible student and should quit school.
4. Jumping to wrong Conclusions
Jumping to wrong conclusions can occur in two ways: 1. Mind-reading and 2. Fortune-telling. When a person is “mind-reading” they are assuming that others have bad intentions. A person who mind reads knows what another person is feeling and thinking. For example, a person may conclude that someone is holding a grudge against them, but never bother to find out if it is what they are really thinking.
On the other hand, when a person is “fortune-telling,” they are predicting a negative future outcome. Example, when a person anticipates that things will turn out badly in their next relationship, and feel that their prediction is true, so why they never bother dating.
Catastrophizing is when you make a small mistake and you think that you’ve made a really big one. It is when you Give greater weight to a perceived failure, weakness and lesser weight to a perceived success. It is basically “making a mountain out of a molehill”. When a person engages in catastrophizing or magnifying, they expect disaster to strike, no matter what.
For example, a student might think “If I fail this test, I will never pass school, and I will be a total failure in life.”Or a girlfriend might think, “If my partner leaves me, I will never find anyone else, and I will never be happy again.”
6. Emotional reasoning
In emotional reasoning, we assume that feelings shows the true nature of things and take reality as a reflection of emotional thoughts; we think something is true solely based on a feeling. It can be summed up by the statement, “If I feel that way, it must be true.” Whatever a person is feeling is believed to be true automatically and unconditionally. If a person feels stupid and boring, then they must be stupid and boring.
7. “Should statements “ .A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.For example:, “I must lose weight to be more attractive.” This type of thinking may induce feelings of guilt or shame.
When a person engages in blaming, they hold other people responsible for their emotional pain. They may also take the opposite track and instead blame themselves for every problem(even those which are outside their control). For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions.