Cognitive distortions are irrational and biased ways of thinking that can lead to negative emotions and behaviors. These cognitive distortions can often reinforce negative thought patterns and they can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, or stress. These distortions can make a person feel bad about themselves. There are several different types of cognitive distortions.
Types of Cognitive Distortions
This is just a short list of the most common types of cognitive distortions that a person can experience. Take a moment to read it through to see if you may have experienced any of these:
- Polarized thinking: This form of thinking is sometimes called “all or nothing” or “black-and-white thinking.” i.e. “If I don’t perform perfectly in the dance recital, then I am a total failure.”
- Overgeneralizing: This form of thinking involves thoughts that make broad, sweeping conclusions based on a single event, i.e “He didn’t want to go out with me. Men are not interested in me, and I will always be rejected.”
- Catastrophizing: This form of thinking involves expecting the worst possible outcome., i.e. “My best friend has not responded to my texts all day. She must be mad at me and she has ended our friendship.”
- Labeling: This form of thinking is where a person attaches negative labels to themselves and others based on their shortcomings or mistakes, i.e. “He’s stupid.” “I’m unintelligent.” “I am a doormat.”
- Mind Reading: This form of thinking assumes that a person knows what another person is thinking without sufficient evidence, i.e. “I just met a new friend at a party and I could tell that she was thinking mean thoughts about my attire”.
- Should Statements: This form of thinking holds rigid and unrealistic expectations for a person and for others and it usually involves the words “should”, “must”, or “ought”. An example of this type of thinking would be thoughts like this “I shouldn’t feel this way.” “She should have called me last night”. “They shouldn’t have done that”.
Now, let’s discuss the ways that we can challenge these distortions.
Challenging Cognitive Distortions
Below I have provided you with a list of techniques that you can use the challenge cognitive distortions that are listed below:
- Polarized thinking: Think of your thoughts on a spectrum. One end of the spectrum is, “I am a failure,” and the other end of the spectrum is, “I am a success”. What lies between those two thoughts? Maybe a person can be successful in some ways and still fail in others. The goal is to see the shades of gray in between the black and white thoughts and recognize that there are other additional possibilities.
- Overgeneralizing: Consider the evidence that is for and against your thoughts. You will need to acknowledge that a single event or a few occurrences may not suggest a pattern or a larger truth. You will need to learn to focus on the exceptions to the overgeneralization.
- Catastrophizing: Try to evaluate the likelihood of the terrible outcome that you are thinking about, and consider other positive outcomes.
- Labeling: This form of thinking can omit a lot of other information about yourself. Think about the other information that is being excluded. When you label yourself, you may be leaving out some positive information about yourself. Try to think about the positive attributes that describe you.
- Mind Reading: Identify precisely what you assume the other person is thinking. It can be beneficial to write these assumptions down, as this will allow you to identify any flaws in the reasoning and provide some distance from the unproductive thought. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of embracing this thought. Potential costs may involve heightened anxiety, increased self-consciousness, and prolonged rumination. Compare the potential benefits to the actual costs and inquire, “Would you be willing to buy these thoughts considering their associated price?” Assess the evidence supporting and contradicting these thoughts. By gathering such evidence, you can assess which side is more substantiated and consider the quality of the evidence you have.
- Should Statements: Reflect on the rules that you have for how you, others and how the world “should” be. Consider the effects of believing in these rules and imposing them on yourself and others. For example, if you find yourself thinking, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” during moments of anxiety, try to explore the consequences of believing that you shouldn’t experience those emotions. Also consider the impact of adopting the perspective that it is okay to feel that way at times.
We can help you challenge any of these cognitive distortions that you may be experiencing by utilizing several different techniques. If you need help with your cognitive distortions, please contact one of our therapists at Optimum Joy.
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