Robin D. Webb
Cognitive distortions are defined as errors in thinking, which cause you to view reality in an inaccurate and negatively biased way. Your mind convinces you to believe things about yourself or your world that are not true.
These thoughts may start out as a way of coping with an adverse life event, which then are gradually and subconsciously reinforced over time. If these negative thoughts are not addressed or resolved, they can lower your self-esteem, and contribute to problems such as anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and other mental health issues.
Types of cognitive distortions.
There are several types of Cognitive Distortions. The following is a list of some of the most common types of Cognitive Distortions:
Polarized Thinking (or “black and white” thinking).
In polarized thinking, the individual views everything as “black or white,” either/or with no middle ground or gray areas. The individual views themselves as either being “perfect” or “a failure.” This kind of thinking can be detrimental toward an individual’s self-confidence and motivation, and makes it difficult to focus on and complete long-term goals.
For example, if an individual set a goal to lose weight and abstain from eating any sweets, then eats a small bowl of ice cream, the individual would then immediately conclude that they had ruined their diet. Therefore, the individual decides to finish eating the entire container of ice cream and then views themselves as a total failure.
In personalization, the individual perceives that everything that is said or done by others is a direct reflection toward them, when it actually is not directed toward them at all.
In the “shoulds” category of distorted thinking, the individual has their own personal list of ironclad rules on how both they and others “should” conduct themselves. The individual would become angry, resentful, or frustrated at anyone who violated or broke any of their ironclad rules. But, when the individual broke any of their own rules, they would experience guilt behind what they “should or should not” have done.
In filtering, the individual would focus only on and intensify all of the negative details of a situation, and would filter out all the positive details of the same situation. For example, the individual dwells on a particular hurtful or negative thing that a friend had said or done, but overlooks all of the other thoughtful, kind, and helpful things that the friend does, which in turn leads to the individual’s distorted view of the relationship,.
When the individual exaggerates shortcomings or the negative details of a situation while minimizing the positives. For example, when something bad happens, the individual sees this as proof of their failures, but when something good happens, they minimize its importance. (Similar to Discounting the Positive)
In overgeneralization, the individual would come to the conclusion and take and generalize one specific event to be an overall pattern that will continue to repeat itself over and over in the future. This can lead to fear, anxiety, and avoidance behavior. Overgeneralizing is a common cognitive distortion in people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Discounting the positive.
In this thought distortion, the individual ignores or invalidates the good things that happen to them. For example, you get an award for a project you did at work, but instead of being proud of your achievement and acknowledging it as the result of your skill, hard work, or smart choices, you explain it away as something that anyone else could have done just as well.
Jumping to conclusions.
You interpret a situation as negative without any evidence to support your conclusion, and then react according to your assumption. For example, a friend passes you on the street and doesn’t notice you because she’s in a hurry and wasn’t looking, but you think she didn’t stop to say hello because she must be mad at you about something. (Mind Reading and Fortune Telling are two examples of Jumping to Conclusions).
Catastrophizing is when the individual fears the worst outcome when faced with an unknown situation. This causes ordinary circumstances that the individual faces or encounters to escalate. For example, the individual’s doctor refers them for a routine test and the individual feels certain that the routine test is going to show that they have cancer.
Global labeling is the thought distortion in which the individual erroneously either “labels” or “mislabels” themselves or someone else based upon a single event or behavior, and judge actions without taking the context into account. For example, if an individual or someone else makes a mistake on a test, they would label themselves as stupid or a failure.
The individual in this distortion accepts and automatically believes that the emotions and feelings that they are experiencing to be true based on their feelings rather than on objective evidence. The individual believes that their unhealthy thoughts reflect the way that things actually are.
The individual tries to hold others accountable for how they feel or actions or behaviors that the individual themselves engages in. For example, the individual blames a negative situation or a circumstance on someone else instead of taking responsibility for their own actions (i.e. blaming the ticket seller for their arriving late for a scheduled event).
Always being right.
The individual has a constant need to try to prove that only ‘their’ opinions or actions are correct, and will go to any lengths to defend their opinions or actions despite being wrong.
In External Control, the individual sees themselves as a victim of fate. (For example, the individual blaming their co-worker for the individual’s lack of contributing to the work project. In Internal Control, the individual assumes responsibility for the pain or another individual’s own actions feeling that they are responsible for the happiness or unhappiness of everyone around them.
The fallacy of change.
This includes the individual’s distorted thought that others will change their behaviors to please the individual. The individual believes that their happiness depends on the actions of others and will try to manipulate their partner or others to change their ways to suit their own needs or expectations.
The fallacy of fairness.
In which the individual feels resentful because of the need for everything to be fair based upon what the individual’s perception of what fairness should be.
How to change cognitive distortions.
Identify the distorted thought.
The first step toward reversing a distorted thought is to learn how to correctly identify it.
Refute the distorted thought.
Ask yourself if there is any evidence to support your thought. Is it based on fact or opinion? If there is no proof to support it, refute it. If you are consistent about refuting your distorted thoughts, they will diminish over time and be automatically replaced by more rational ways of thinking.
Replace absolutes. Replace words such as “always,” “never,” and “everyone” with “sometimes,” “occasionally,” and “some people.”
Reframe the distorted thought.
Look for shades of gray, or objective evidence to support your thought. Try to view what triggered it from different perspectives. Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen, the best that could happen, and what the most likely scenario would be.
Label the behavior instead of yourself or others.
Instead of defining yourself or others by an action, label the behavior.
Search for positive aspects.
Try to find at least three positive affirmations to counter every negative thought . For example, if you catch yourself thinking “I never do anything right,” stop and identify three scenarios when you were accurate or successful.
Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a short-term form of self-talk, thought, and behavioral therapy, in which you learn to identify, interrupt, and change unhealthy thought patterns and replace them with more helpful, realistic ones.
If you have questions or would like to set up an appointment to see one of the faith-based counselors at our office, please give us a call today.
Bible verses for cognitive distortions.
Meditate on these verses when you face a cognitive distortion. Write them down or save them in your phone for easy access in a difficult moment.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2, NIV
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7. NIV
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. – Philippians 4:8, NIV
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV
Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA (December 18, 2019). What Are Cognitive Distortions and How Can You Change These Thinking Patterns? Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/cognitive-distortions.
Sandra Silva Casablanca (January 10, 2022). 15 Cognitive Distortions To Blame for Negative Thinking, PsychCentral, https://psychcentral.com/lib/cognitive-distortions-negative-thinking#list-and-examples.
“Paper Brain”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Stressed”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Thinking Man”, Courtesy of Kenny Eliason, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mirrored Heavens”, Courtesy of Noah Buscher, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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