Cognitive Distortions. A concept which seems so simple, yet I have never even heard of it or thought about it until a couple months ago. My therapist – who really is great, by the way – has gradually mentioned it over the course of my treatment recently. Yesterday she told me that my distorted thinking is causing her concern. She said I seem to grasp onto this way of thinking like a crutch almost. As though it is something I need. Through sometime in my life I continued to grow physically and intellectually but not emotionally. That led to these distorted thoughts which are leaving me in this rut seemingly unable to crawl out.
I have asked her in the past if she thought I had bi-polar or a personality disorder or even OCD. She doesn’t seem all that into labeling…but the answers were all a certain no. It has always been known I have depression – since about age 12 if not sooner; anxiety – probably as long but didn’t get BAD until my early 20s; PMDD – from also about 12ish…but I just figured it was normal for all women and didn’t have a name for it (besides PMS…which is different) until about 6 years ago. So, these are what I have known myself to “have”. These have been the reasons for my having been on medications here and there throughout my life. These were something which was a part of me – an illness – that was takin’ my ass down sooner or later and one way or another. So, simple enough…therapy and drugs, right? Seems the thing to do. But for 25 years?
This idea of ‘distorted thinking’ has really been an eye opener. But also, it is making me question what is REALLY wrong with me. Perhaps the depression, the obsessing, the worry…all of it…is caused by this ‘stinkin’ thinkin”. And perhaps without these silly thought problems I would not have this depression or a need for treatment. Maybe it really IS all in my head – an argument I would have fought against mere months ago.
I am going to paste something from an article I recently read by John M. Grohol PsyD.
By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
What’s a cognitive distortion and why do so many people have them? Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.
For instance, a person might tell themselves, “I always fail when I try to do something new; I therefore fail at everything I try.” This is an example of “black or white” (or polarized) thinking. The person is only seeing things in absolutes — that if they fail at one thing, they must fail at all things. If they added, “I must be a complete loser and failure” to their thinking, that would also be an example of over generalization — taking a failure at one specific task and generalizing it their very self and identity.
Cognitive distortions are at the core of what many cognitive-behavioral and other kinds of therapists try and help a person learn to change in psychotherapy. By learning to correctly identify this kind of “stinkin’ thinkin’,” a person can then 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.
Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions and David Burns was responsible for popularizing it with common names and examples for the distortions.
We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.
(there is no doubt in my mind that this is an issue for me. i think anyone who knows me would say it is pretty obvious. someone can read one of my writings and say it is great…but that they would just change this one little thing. Well, I will focus on that one little thing and feel bad about that instead of the writing as a whole.)
2. Polarized Thinking.
Things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure–there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
(oh hell yes. me to a friggin’ tee. black or white. right or wrong. all or nothing. win or lose. its funny that i was going to name my son Grey when there obviously isn’t much room for the shade in my life. as a kid, if I couldn’t play a sport well the very first time, i would give up forever. in high school, i didn’t make the school play – even though i thought i did well at the time – so i never tried again. if i’d ruin my diet by having some cake, i would say fuck it and eat like a cow for the entire weekend.)
3. Over generalization.
We come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
(as much as i hate it when others or an entire society does it…i have to admit, i do it as well. with people, situations, events…if one was bad or mean or anxiety provoking – they will always be that way…oh and there is another one…’always’. always, never, every and none. oh my.)
4. Jumping to Conclusions.
Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us. For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them and don’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact.
(oh. my. god. seriously? will i be checking a YES mark to every one of these?? i always called it my intuition – which really is quite keen. but it also sucks because i don’t always know when it is my intuition or the distortion. how will i be able to tell? if someone gives off a bad attitude, i will typically think it must be because they don’t like me.)
We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).
For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).
(now catasrophizing is something i have been aware of for a number of years now. between the ages of 23 and 30, i had the most debilitating panic attacks. just horrible. towards the end of this time my husband did probably thee nicest thing he has ever done. he stopped at a book store, on his own, without request, very much out of his element lol…he bought me a book that ended up helping me unbelievably. it was called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne. i believe there was a whole chapter about it and boy could i identify. every headache was an aneurysm, every chest pain was a heart attack.)
Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to us. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc. A person sees themselves as the cause of some unhealthy external event that the were not responsible for. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t’t have happened.”
(i think this kinda tags along with the ‘jumping to conclusions’ one in some ways. in others, i am all over this. i compare myself to others constantly. people i know, strangers, people on tv. regardless of the topic, the surroundings, the circumstances – 99% of the time, i don’t even come close to measuring up. this is especially true in the looks department. but also with success, creativity, talent, mothering…)
7. Control Fallacies.
If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”
(this is also part of that wanting to please. my dad, when he was in my life as a child, would often tell me to stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ all of the time. i said it annoyingly too much. another often heard phrase from me, ‘are you mad at me?’ if i sensed any tension or noted any negative behavior or emotion i would worry it was something i did wrong.)
8. Fallacy of Fairness.
We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us, “Life is always fair,” and people who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it.
(this could likely fall into my obsessive need for justice. why i may always get so angry when i hear about scott walker or witness any kind of bullying. i get angry, frustrated and feel the need to FIX it. and when it is too big of a mess, i will just feel defeated. this is how i feel now about the whole political thing. for a while i thought i could do something…help in some way. now, i just feel defeated.)
We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions.
(yes. i do this. doesn’t everyone?? anyway, while i have been known to behave this way…i can also say that i forgive just as easy as i blame. is that good for anything?)
We have a list of ironclad rules about how others and we should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’t’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.
For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When a person directs should statements toward others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment.
(i think it is super eerie that that the author took some of my direct quotes…said over and over and over…)
11. Emotional Reasoning.
We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid and boring, then we must be stupid and boring. You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect he way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
(again, you mean not EVERYone is this way?)
12. Fallacy of Change.
We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
(this has been true only a handful of times. there have been some extreme circumstances where i so desperately kept trying to change a person. actually, one person in particular. but i never…say, went into a relationship thinking i could change a guy or something like that.)
13. Global Labeling.
We generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment. These are extreme forms of generalizing, and are also referred to as “labeling” and “mislabeling.” Instead of describing an error in context of a specific situation, a person will attach an unhealthy label to themselves.
For example, they may say, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they failed at a specific task. When someone else’s behavior rubs a person the wrong way, they may attach an unhealthy label to him, such as “He’s a real jerk.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. For example, instead of saying someone drops her children off at daycare every day, a person who is mislabeling might say that “she abandons her children to strangers.”
(i think this goes without saying…and yet again, i am shocked that no everyone does this.)
14. Always Being Right.
We are continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate our rightness. For example, “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going to win this argument no matter what because I’m right.” Being right often is more important than the feelings of others around a person who engages in this cognitive distortion, even loved ones.
(fo’ REAL??!! i like that…’continually on trial’. how true. that is exactly how it feels sometimes…says the editorial writer lol…)
15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.
We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.
(this is tricky for me. i never thought this would be something to which i would say THATS ME…but i remember someone bringing it up to me before. a past therapist. he asked me why i thought something could make me ‘qualified for hell’. he seemed so astonished when i had told him i was worried about going to hell for something. funny thing is…i don’t really believe in HELL. But…what if???)
Leo Buscaglia once said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy”, this is important to remember. Take on the daily challenge of recognizing and changing these cognitive distortions. By changing our negative thinking, we may find ourselves worrying less and enjoying life more.
- 10 Forms of Twisted Thinking (psychcentral.com)
- Cognitive Distortions (livingwithmanicdepression.wordpress.com)
- 15 Styles of Distorted Thinking (lilywhitewash.wordpress.com)
- How To Develop The Positive Thinking Habit (buduson.wordpress.com)