Cognitive distortions refer to ways of thinking that can be irrational however to you they feel like they’re rational and because of this, these distortions can cause issues.
These are beliefs you hold about several different things such as how the world works, how people behave – we’ll run through more below. These distortions can alter your view on reality and unfortunately stir up a lot of intense feelings and thoughts because these distortions can create an alternative reality for you. As these beliefs are usually deep-rooted, they can be hard to spot however all is not lost, raising your awareness (paying attention to what your mind says) can help you to spot these negative thinking patterns.
Throughout your life you’ll come across pleasant and unpleasant situations, as humans we tend to give ourselves narratives on what’s happened in each situation, about the timing, place, the other people involved, how you felt and how you dealt with it. These narratives can then be used by your unconscious to explain other situations you’re in, making you can feel like history is repeating itself – this can sometimes be a reason why cognitive distortions happen.
This way of thinking basically means you take things personally, regardless of the situation or what’s happening, you don’t consider the context of the situation, it’s an automatic assumption that whatever’s happening is personal – that the only reason someone has said or done anything is because it’s you. In other words where you’re blaming yourself for other’s behaviours or you’re assuming that someone is only mistreating you and no one else.
You have rules, you feel you must follow, these might be taught to you by others, or you’ve created these rules for yourself to follow. In some respects, it could refer to your expectations of yourself and or others. This way of thinking about things can lead to feelings of shame and guilt because you feel you’ve fallen short of what’s expected, even though these expectations are usually only in your mind. When others don’t follow what you feel they should do, this can leave you feeling angry and frustrated at them because you may feel It’s the right thing and they should do it, however, the reality is you can’t control others and this way of thinking just hurts you.
Black and white thinking
This way of thinking, unfortunately, leads to you eliminating other perspectives or possibilities in situations, limiting yourself to only see two perspectives for example someone is either good or bad, leading to you eliminating the reality that everyone has a combination of both, good and bad. Someone who usually is nice to you may ever so often say something hurtful, maybe leading to your brandishing them as a bad person or could even lead to confusion about that person.
When something positive happens and you acknowledge it however you tell yourself it’s not that big of a deal, this is considered minimising. This way of thinking can make you feel like most things in your life are negative and you never really get what you want.
This is the opposite of minimising, where when something negative happens, you emphasise that negative experience so much that it feels and looks bigger than it is, leading to you feeling frustrated, angry, anxious, negative and wondering why bad things keep happening to you.
When you experience anything negative you feel it’s the worst possible thing that could have happened, to the point where you feel like you’re crashing and your anxiety has gone through the roof, you find yourself panicking and overthinking the whole situation – this is like magnifying however your reactions are more extreme. This over-emphasis on the negative experience and your reaction to it is considered catastrophizing.
Predicting the future
Telling yourself you know what’s going to happen is fortune-telling, again a negative thinking pattern as your predictions are always negative and telling yourself something is going to go wrong, therefore, leading to you feel anxious or negative about situations.
This way of thinking is like being psychic, where you convince yourself, you know what someone else is thinking or feeling. This happens despite the other person not telling you what they’re thinking, you’re thinking purely based on assumption.
This way of functioning relies on how you feel first and then thinking that those feelings are a representation of what’s happening or a representation of something about to happen. An example of this is if you’re feeling scared to then think you’re in danger somehow (even if you’re not). This can be like OCD, where you feel scared you haven’t locked your front door even though you checked it before leaving, then go back and check it again.
Disregarding the positive
This way of thinking is based on selective views of situations, where you might zone into the negative aspects and disregard any positives that may have happened for example you may feel everyone always says negative things to you but when someone pays you a compliment you ignore it.
The way filtering works is that you don’t acknowledge all the information, instead, you focus on one aspect of what’s been said, giving yourself a very selective view, which can lead to a lot of negative feelings.
You may be identifying yourself as a ‘failure’ when something happens because you have a ‘labelling’ way of thinking: you associate yourself or others with one experience only and place a label on yourself/others as a result, for example, you may have had an interview for a job and didn’t get the job, you then refer to yourself as a failure. This is despite you having had jobs in the past and are likely to get another job in the future.
This is simply when you blame others or life for everything that may go wrong, without considering the situation or what’s happening.
A need to be right
This way of thinking is based on you feeling like your opinions and views are factual and as such lead to you not considering how other’s may feel, which can lead to difficulties in relationships.
If you associate all positive events or situations to your character and therefore it as inevitable for those situations to happen along with seeing that negative situations aren’t a representation of you and out of your control; your way of thinking is called self-serving bias. This leads to you not acknowledging your own flaws and living in a reality where you’re always right.
You may feel that if you’re self-sacrificing and put your needs aside, you’ll be rewarded for this later, this can lead to you feeling angry and resentful if you don’t receive the reward you were waiting for.
Fallacy of change
If you believe other people around you need to change for you to be happy, you may need to consider that this way of thinking implies that other people need to change to accommodate you and your needs in some respects this could be considered selfish.
Your expectations are that people and life should be fair and equal across the board, when unfortunately in reality this isn’t always the case, there are many situations which occur that are unfair and illogical but they still happen, for example, someone being attacked for no reason.
If you feel you’re in control of situations, you may find you criticise yourself when things don’t go the way you wanted; you convince yourself you were in control of the situation therefore you would be able to change it when the reality is that the situation was never in your control.
You may find that a few or more may apply to you, the question now is what do you do? Raising your self-awareness is key, paying attention to the thoughts in your mind, what is your mind saying to you, consider alternative ways of thinking that are healthy and implement these when you spot the cognitive distortions. If you spot those thoughts, you’re now able to change those thoughts into healthier ways of thinking.