Cognitive distortions are exaggerated, biased or irrational automatic thoughts about oneself and the world around us. They cause individuals to perceive reality inaccurately and lead to problematic emotional states and behavior, like anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, anger and relationship conflicts.
Each of us has a unique set of assumptions about ourselves and our world that serve to guide us through life and determine our reactions to the various situations we encounter and every human uses these cognitive distortions to greater and lesser degrees. Becoming mindful of these common cognitive distortions will help you understand yourself and other people better. Below is a list of 10 common cognitive distortions, from Dr. David Burns, author of the best seller “The Feeling Good Handbook.”
(Source: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company)
1) ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in absolute black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a “total” failure.
2) OVERGENERALIZATION: You view a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as “always” and “never” when you think about it..
3) MENTAL FILTER: You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives. You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
4) DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities “don’t count.” If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes joy our of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.
5) JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion. You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.
A.) MIND READING: This is perhaps one of the most common forms of cognitive distortions that can occur with people. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. Guessing what someone else is thinking, when they may not be thinking that.
B) FORTUNE TELLING: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
6) MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance inappropriately. You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
7) EMOTIONAL REASONING: You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one.” Or “I feel angry. This proves I’m being treated unfairly”
8) SHOULD STATEMENTS: You criticize yourself or other people with “Shoulds” or “Shouldn’ts.” “Musts,” “Oughts,” “Have tos” are similar offenders. “Should statements” that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration.
9) LABELING AND MISLABELING: You identify yourself with your shortcomings. Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I am a jerk,” or “a fool,” or “a loser.” without being open to subsequent evidence suggesting you aren’t “a jerk,” or “a fool,” or “a loser.” Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do.
10) PERSONALIZATION: You take something personally that may not be personal. You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.”
If you want to get rid of your thoughts, you first have to understand what they are, the different types of distorted thinking that exist and how to deal with them.
By learning to correctly identify this kind of distorted thinking, you can answer the negative thinking back, and refute it.
By refuting the negative thinking over and over again, it will slowly diminish overtime and be automatically replaced by more rational, balanced thinking.
The key is to be more mindful of how you talk to yourself. It is true that this kind of distorted thinking can be undone but it takes effort and lots of practice every day.
If you are facing challenges, we are here to help at Naya Clinics.
Sam Nabil was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English, The Washington post, The Boston Globe, Fatherly magazine, Women's health magazine, Cornell university , Yahoo News, USA Today, Marriage.com