This blog series will explore cognitive distortions, what they are, and how to manage them. If you recognize more than one cognitive distortion in your own thinking, it can be helpful to know that some of the strategies for addressing them may overlap. Don’t be discouraged if you identify with one or all of them. It is not a measure of severity.
Cognitive distortions are common ways that our mind convinces us of things that aren't really true. These thinking patterns can lead to negative emotions and can make it difficult to make positive changes in our lives. The following are a brief introduction. You can read more about each in their individual post.
Seeing things in absolutes: black and white, pass or fail, good or bad. Unable to see gray areas where there are multiple alternatives. Difficulty seeing progress without perfection as a success.
Example: You are trying to eat healthier but ate a donut. Now you feel like ruined your plan so you give up.
Example: A coworker made a comment about a choice you made, and now you can't stand her.
It happened once, it will happen every time.
Example: I made a mistake so I will never get promoted.
Example: Good things never happen to me.
Discounting the Positive/Mental Filter
If something good happens, it doesn’t count. Dwelling on the negatives.
Example: My boss gave me a good review but it's only because he's trying to be nice.
Example: I did well on this exam but it doesn't count because I missed some really easy questions.
Jumping to Conclusions
Reacting to the situation without having all the information.
Assuming you know what someone else is thinking or feeling without any evidence.
Example: She didn't say good morning today so she must be mad at me.
Example: That person is staring at me. They probably think I'm ugly.
Thinking you can predict the future outcome without considering other options.
Example: My boss wants to set up a meeting so I must be getting fired.
Catastrophizing (Magnifying) or Minimizing
Distorting the importance of events. Magnifying the negative or minimizing the positive.
Example: If I fail this test, I am going to fail school, and be a screw up for the rest of my life.
Believing something is true because it feels true.
Example: I feel anxious about this social gathering so it must mean I shouldn't go.
Telling yourself you should, should not, or should have done something.
Example: I should have done better in that interview and maybe I would have gotten the job.
Labeling and Mislabeling
Using labels instead describing behaviors.
Example: I'm an idiot for making this mistake.
Taking the blame for negative events even though you were not primarily responsible.
Example: Your child got hurt at the park and you blame yourself for taking them there.
Example: Someone criticized the restaurant you picked and you feel responsible that they didn't enjoy their dinner.
Recognizing cognitive distortions in our own thinking is the first step towards changing them. Once we can identify these patterns, we can start to challenge them and replace them with more accurate and realistic thinking. If you find yourself struggling with cognitive distortions, consider talking to a therapist or counselor who can help you work through.