Cognitive Distortions you don't need them

Wednesday, September 20, 2023 @ 4:05 PM

For many of us, we are entirely unaware of how prevalent cognitive distortions are in our lives. We have allowed them to run rampant in our every day thought processes and when someone points out how dysfunctional they are, we can even become a bit defensive.

Cognitive distortions serve no healthy purpose. In fact, they often lead to more irrational thinking, dysregulated mood, as well as intrapersonal and interpersonal problems. We find that those struggling with distortions regularly struggle to maintain a positive outlook or hope that things can get better. They often have more difficulties in their interpersonal relationships and allow their distortions to dictate the outcome of their relationships.

All this to say, cognitive distortions are relatively normal to have. Most of us have struggled, and often even after learning about distortions and how to work through them effectively, still do struggle with at least one. Below you will find a list of the 10 most common distortions. It would be beneficial for you to go through the list and notate any that you feel resonate with you, or that you are aware that you do regularly.

1. Mental Filtering: When we choose (often unconsciously) to focus on everything that is not working. We filter out all the good and only see the bad.

Reframe: Begin by listing 1 thing daily that is going right or is good. Eventually work up to 5-10 items daily.

2. Jumping to Conclusions: When we make *irrational* assumptions about other people or situations based on our feelings rather than on facts or evidence.

Reframe: Examine the evidence. Is your conclusion substantiated? Challenge the feeling. Remind yourself that feelings are not facts. Question what the conclusion does for you, does it help you or hurt you? And, are their healthier alternatives?

3. Personalization: When we take undue blame for everything that goes wrong in our lives and others, and we find ourselves to constantly be a victim of circumstance.

Reframe: Examine what part (if any) you did have in the outcome, accept whatever responsibility you have in the matter and work on letting others accept responsibility as well.

4. All of Nothing Thinking: When we see everything in black or white, right, or wrong; there is no middle ground or space to compromise.

Reframe: Challenge yourself by finding alternative (middle ground) solutions or compromises. Start small and work up to adjusting on a larger scale.

5. Catastrophizing: When we blow things our of proportion or make situations/events worse than they actually are. Everything will always be bad.

Reframe: Challenge your thinking. “Are things really as bad as I feel?” And then challenge your feelings; Why am I feeling this way, what evidence do I have that supports this feeling?

6. Overgeneralization: When we have a habit of using past experiences (often based in feelings rather than evidence) to predict or make assumptions about the future. “She ALWAYS…He NEVER…”

Reframe: Challenge the absolutes (always, never, must..) and is there evidence to support a different outcome? Could things be different if we didn’t use absolutes?

7. Labeling: When we make global statements about ourselves or others based on situation specific behaviors. We use one event to label the rest. *this often mirrors our internal belief system.

Reframe: Where is the evidence that this is true in every situation? Reminding ourselves that using one event to determine the outcome of everything requires further reflection.

8. Shoulding and Musting: When we use “should and must” to have unreasonable expectations of ourselves or others. “You SHOULD…I MUST…”

Reframe: When you notice yourself using these words, challenge yourself to see if the expectations are reasonable. How are you feeling? Is your feeling based on evidence? Are there any other healthy alternatives that can help you reach the desired outcome.

9. Emotional Reasoning: When we allow our feelings to dictate how we see situations, people, and outcomes. The tendency to allow our feelings to control our perceptions.

Reframe: Being mindful in the moment and questioning our feelings. “Is how I am feeling skewed or biased? What evidence do I have to support my feelings?”

10. Magnification and Minimization: When we tend to minimize our own positive attributes and devalue ourselves, while magnifying someone else’s positive attributes and putting them on a pedestal. In other words, recognizing and magnifying some else’s good while putting yourself down.

Reframe: Challenge yourself to find reasons that you are deserving and capable. Start out with listing one thing daily that you are good at, that you do well. Eventually build up and add to your list. “What about today/this situation makes me deserving and capable?”

So, what to do once you have identified which ones you struggle with? You work on reframing your thoughts. A mental health professional can work with you to identify which ones you struggle with (do not be surprised if multiple resonate with you) and help you to gain more effective and healthy coping skills. Cognitive distortions often come from a time when they served you. For example, at some point in your life someone you trusted told you what you SHOULD do, and you saw the unreasonable expectations they had on themselves (what they MUST do). This led you to utilizing the “shoulding and musting” in your own life without even recognizing where it came from. At one point it was normal. But that does not mean it was healthy. Which leads you to finding healthier alternatives for the distortions.

To some extent we may all do these from time to time. To say that we could entirely eradicate ever doing any of these would not be beneficial, but we can minimize the frequency and extent to which you utilize these to cope. Our thoughts are based on our perceptions and our perceptions are our reality. But if we can change our thoughts, we can change our reality. We can go from hopeless to having hope. From struggling interpersonally to maintaining healthy and thriving relationships. From intrapersonal discord to shaping who we want to be and loving the life we live. You are not destined to live with unhealthy thinking patterns or maladaptive (unhealthy) coping skills. The thing about our thoughts is, they are often founded through feelings, and feelings are not facts. When we take the time to examine our feelings and their validity, we find that we have unresolved hurts or ineffective coping skills that have served us but no longer do. We find that we can let go of those feelings and focus on the facts, we can change our thoughts, we can lean into the discomfort temporarily to create a life we will love, we can choose a different path than the one we are currently on, and we do not have to let our past dictate our future outcomes.