Cognitive distortions: Change your thinking to change your life!

What if I told you that you at one time or another have fallen victim to a cognitive distortion? It sounds intense, but really, cognitive distortions are a common part of life for many people. They are the simple ways that our mind can trick us into thinking something that isn’t true. For example, all-or-nothing statements like “I did poorly on this test, so I can NEVER do anything right!!” can have you believing you are incapable of ever performing well on a test, which is not true based on that one assessment.

Put simply, cognitive distortions are basically patterns of thinking that are inaccurate or false. They also have the capacity to cause psychological damage if not addressed (think depression, anxiety, and other disorders that interrupt day to day life in the long term). You may think you’ve never experienced a cognitive distortion; I mean, how could your brain betray you like that? Luckily, the list presented here will help you identify different types of distortions so you can start to change those negative thought patterns you may notice in your daily life.

There are many different types of cognitive distortions, but we will go over five that you may have experienced:

  1. As discussed above, all-or-nothing thinking (also known as polarization or black-and-white thinking)) can be damaging because you cannot see the middle ground. This type of thinking causes you to see yourself as either perfect and great or a good for nothing failure. Nobody is perfect, so having this type of mindset will set an impossible standard.
  2. Overgeneralization is another distortion that you may have experienced a time or two. When something bad happens, you may generalize it to other parts of your life. For example, a person who overgeneralizes may believe that since two of their romantic relationships haven’t worked out, they are unlovable and will never be able to have a long-term relationship. This assumption is only based on one or two experiences and creates a pattern of negativity.
  3. Jumping to conclusions. Let’s be honest, if you say you’ve never done this, you’re not thinking hard enough! There are actually two types here: fortune telling and mind reading. Jumping to conclusions is exactly as it sounds. The person with this distortion will assume they know what another person is thinking without bothering to find out if his or her thoughts are accurate, which would be the “mind reading” mentioned above. The assumptions made here can make you believe that someone feels negatively towards you based on no actual facts. The “fortune telling” subgroup means that a person thinks that his or her thoughts are facts. For example, a college student may believe that he or she will never get a job out of school and take that thought as fact. In reality, there is no way for the student to know if he or she will get a job, so the prediction is not fact.
  4. Fallacy of Change means that a person believes others should change for them because our happiness is dependent upon it. For example, a woman in a relationship may believe that, if she just gets her husband to stop doing things that irritate her, she will be happy and be a better wife in turn. This type of thinking can be common in relationships that are not working out, yet one person keeps pushing because he or she feels that happiness is dependent upon being with that specific significant other. This could be a potentially dangerous distortion when thinking about abusive relationships and staying in a bad situation because you believe the other person will change eventually for you.
  5. Personalization is another common distortion that unfortunately has individuals taking everything personally. They believe that negative outcomes are due to their presence, and there is no logical reason for that belief. This can become a self-defeating cycle. Imagine that all day your thoughts are consumed by beliefs that you are bothering or upsetting others! It would be hard to live in a world like that, so thought patterns like this need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Do any of these seem familiar? If so, that’s great! What that means is that you have identified these fallacies in your line of logic and you can begin to address them. If you notice any symptoms associated with these distortions such as depression or anxiety, a therapist can help you address and change your negative thought patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a tried and true way to change patterns of thinking and behavior in order to improve your quality of life and alleviate symptoms such as anxiety and depression. As always, if you have any questions for our team of trained professionals, we are here to help! Feel free to reach out via phone (908) 914-2624 or email (info@anxietycounselingnj.com).

Resources:
https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/

Cognitive Distortions: When Your Brain Lies to You (+ PDF Worksheets)

Psychology Tools: What are Cognitive Distortions?