Cognitive Distortions

Are Your Negative Self-Talks Weighing You Down?

I’ve prepared an exercise for you so you can begin taking ownership of your own thoughts to increase awareness and reduce your automatic negative thinking… sounds good?

The 411

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, these automatic negative thoughts are called “Cognitive Distortions”. Our minds use these distortions to convince us that something that is not true, just is. These inaccurate thoughts reinforce negative thoughts and emotions – basically, the only thing they do is to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

It’s true. We automatically put ourselves down over things that are completely untrue. And because our amazing brain is wired to spread out and search for information to support these untruths, we end up finding “evidence” convincing us that indeed, “I can’t do ANYTHING right…” (polarized) “because I’m a complete failure” (overgeneralization)

These inaccurate thought patterns are common, but their potential impact should not be underestimated. Listen, once you’ve convinced yourself that you “can’t do anything right”, your brain will do everything to prove that correct. Guess what happens from that point on?

Ok, but there are methods to fix/reprogram these sneaky distortions, and we’re going to get started right now. First… choose an automatic thought from the following list:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking

For example, Joan feels like a failure at getting sober. Every time she has a slip-up, instead of acknowledging that she made a mistake and trying to move past it, she drinks to ?intoxication the same night, figuring she has already blown it.

2. Overgeneralization

Here’s an example: Ben has inferred from a series of coincidences that seven is his lucky number and has overgeneralized this to gambling situations involving the number seven, no matter how many times he loses.

3. Mental Filter

An example of how mental filters can lead to addiction or relapse: Nathan feels like he needs to use cocaine in social situations because he filters out all the good social experiences he has without cocaine, and instead fixates on the times he has not been on cocaine and others have seemed bored by his company.

4. Discounting the Positive

For example, a person who receives a positive review at work might reject the idea that they are a competent employee and attribute the positive review to political correctness, or to their boss simply not wanting to talk about their employee’s performance problems.

5. Mind Reading

Seeing a stranger with an unpleasant expression and jumping to the conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you is an example of this distortion.

6. Fortune Telling

A young, single woman predicting that she will never find love or have a committed and happy relationship based only on the fact that she has not found it yet. There is simply no way for her to know how her life will turn out, but she sees this prediction as fact rather than one of several possible outcomes.

7. Catastrophizing

An athlete who is generally a good player but makes a mistake may magnify the importance of that mistake and believe that he is a terrible teammate, while an athlete who wins a coveted award in her sport may minimize the importance of the award and continue believing that she is only a mediocre player.

8. Emotional Reasoning

It can be described as “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” For instance, Jenna used emotional reasoning to conclude that she was a worthless person, which in turn lead to binge eating.

9. Should Statements

You might for instance say, “I/they must… I/they should… I/they ought…” These statements puts pressure on you and others to meet your high personal standards and expectations in specific situations. For example, you place expectation, judgment, and pressure, like “I should be better” vs “I’d like to be better” and “I should know this already” vs “I want to learn more about this”

10. Labeling and Mislabeling

For example, a student who labels herself as “an utter fool” for failing an assignment is engaging in this distortion, as is the waiter who labels a customer “a grumpy old miser” if he fails to thank the waiter for bringing his food. Mislabeling refers to the application of highly emotional, loaded, and inaccurate or unreasonable language when labeling.

11. Personalization

Anna blamed herself for childhood abuse by her father, reasoning that if she hadn’t led him on, it never would have happened (this is actually what her father had told her at the time). Believing you are the cause for all the moodiness and irritation in those around you.

12. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: (1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or (2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, giving us responsibility for the feelings of those around us. Both beliefs are damaging, and both are equally inaccurate.

No one is in complete control of what happens to them, and no one has absolutely no control over their situation. Even in extreme situations where an individual seemingly has no choice in what they do or where they go, they still have a certain amount of control over how they approach their situation mentally.

13. Fallacy of Fairness

While we would all probably prefer to operate in a world that is fair, the assumption of an inherently fair world is not based in reality and can foster negative feelings when we are faced with proof of life’s unfairness.

A person who judges every experience by its perceived fairness has fallen for this fallacy, and will likely feel anger, resentment, and hopelessness when they inevitably encounter a situation that is not fair.

14. Fallacy of Change

Another ‘fallacy’ distortion involves expecting others to change if we pressure or encourage them enough. This distortion is usually accompanied by a belief that our happiness and success rests on other people, leading us to believe that forcing those around us to change is the only way to get what we want.

A man who thinks “If I just encourage my wife to stop doing the things that irritate me, I can be a better husband and a happier person” is exhibiting the fallacy of change.

15. Always Being Right

Perfectionists and those struggling with Imposter Syndrome will recognize this distortion – it is the belief that we must always be right. For those struggling with this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right.

For example, the internet commenters who spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should “agree to disagree” are engaging in the “Always Being Right” distortion. To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs.

16. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This distortion is a popular one, and it’s easy to see myriad examples of this fallacy playing out on big and small screens across the world. The “Heaven’s Reward Fallacy” manifests as a belief that one’s struggles, one’s suffering, and one’s hard work will result in a just reward.

It is obvious why this type of thinking is a distortion – how many examples can you think of, just within the realm of your personal acquaintances, where hard work and sacrifice did not pay off?

Sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does not materialize.