Most of us think that our perspective on life is objective and realistic, but this isn’t always the case. When we find ourselves thinking in ways that are counterproductive or just make us feel bad, we’re experiencing cognitive distortions. While cognitive distortions aren’t necessarily problematic, they can definitely hold you back from achieving your goals and living a more fulfilling life. They can also lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression if left untreated.
What Are Cognitive Distortions?
Cognitive distortions are ways that our mind convinces us of things that are not really true. They are biases that distort our perception of reality. Examples of cognitive distortions include: all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, disqualifying the positive, jumping to conclusions, magnification or minimization, and emotional reasoning.
For example, let’s say you had a bad day at work. You focus on the fact that your boss yelled at you and you made a mistake on your project. You filter out the fact that you also received compliments from your boss on other projects and that your co-workers were supportive. As a result, you see yourself as a complete failure.
To prevent filtering, try to pay attention to all aspects of a situation, both positive and negative.
Discounting the Positive
Whenever something good happens, do you immediately think of all the reasons why it’s not that great? This cognitive distortion is called discounting the positive. For example, let’s say you get a promotion at work. A friend congratulates you and you think to yourself, Yeah, but it’s just a small raise and I’ll still be working long hours.
Jumping to Conclusions (Mind Reading, Fortune Telling, Catastrophizing)
Do you find yourself mind reading, fortune telling, or catastrophizing often? If so, you may be suffering from cognitive distortions.
If you’re familiar with cognitive distortions, you might know these distorted thoughts by name. You probably experience them on a daily basis: Jumping to conclusions, for example, is when you assume that your partner doesn’t care about you or is angry with you when they haven’t said or done anything to indicate it. Fortune telling is when you predict something negative will happen, even though there’s no evidence to support your belief. Catastrophizing means blowing up small problems into larger issues. If any of these sound familiar, chances are good that you engage in them from time to time. It can be frustrating trying to combat those nagging negative thoughts on your own, but fortunately there are things you can do about it!
One common cognitive distortion is emotional reasoning, which is when you allow your emotions to dictate your thoughts and beliefs. For example, if you feel anxious about a situation, you might automatically assume that it’s dangerous or that something bad will happen. Or, if you feel embarrassed after doing something, you might tell yourself that you’re a terrible person.
Labeling / Mislabeling
Labeling is a cognitive distortion where we attach a negative label to ourselves or others based on one event or characteristic. For example, if you make a mistake at work, you might label yourself as a failure. This can lead to feelings of shame and defeatism. To tame your labeling bias, try to catch yourself when you’re doing it and reframe the situation in a more positive light. For instance, instead of calling yourself a failure, you could say something like, Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I’m going to learn from this and do better next time.
A cognitive distortion is a negative thought pattern that causes you to see yourself, others, and situations in an inaccurate and harmful way. Should statements are a type of cognitive distortion where you tell yourself that things should be a certain way. This can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, and anxiety. Here are some examples of should statements
Personalization / Blame
Personalization is a cognitive distortion where you take responsibility for things that are out of your control. For example, if your team loses a game, you might think it’s because you didn’t play well. Blame is similar in that you assign responsibility for a negative event to someone or something else. For example, if your car gets a flat tire, you might blame the person who hit the pothole.
Magnification / Minimization
Do you ever find yourself only focusing on the negative? Blowing things out of proportion? This is called magnification, and it’s a cognitive distortion that can be detrimental to your mental health. Minimization is the opposite- underestimating the importance or seriousness of something. Both of these distortions can be harmful, but there are ways to recognize and tame them.