Psychiatrist Aaron Beck, the founder of cognitive-behavioral therapy, laid the foundation for the following cognitive distortions. While we all engage in them from time to time, they become a problem when they bleed into our daily lives, causing depression, isolation, and anxiety.
Pay attention to how many times you employ these distortions on a daily or weekly basis. Once you are aware that you do, you can make the effort to consciously reduce the frequency with which you engage in them.
- Overgeneralization You have one or two negative experiences and think everything in the future will play out that same way. Ironically, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, you will this to happen, confirming your erroneous convictions.
- Shoulda, woulda, coulda You live in a “should” world — “I should have done this, so that this wouldn’t have happened.” Let it go. Things unfolded in a particular way for a reason. Tell yourself you will do better next time.
- Black-and-white thinking It is hard for you to see possibilities outside the box. Realize that there are a lot of options, and those choices often reside in the gray world. Very little exists in the all-or-nothing realm.
- Negativity bias If someone says something that isn’t what you perceive to be positive, you automatically think that everything negative will ensue, and you stay in this negative downward spiral or web. You continue harping on the matter and can’t escape. You are trapped by your own thoughts.
- Mind reading You believe your thoughts, which often leads to believing that you know what other people are thinking. In a recent study, findings revealed that psychologists only guess 50 percent of the time what their patients are truly thinking.
- Catastrophizing When you blow things out of proportion, you create a web of distress that leads to fantasizing about the ways in which every little thing can go wrong.
- Self-blame Blaming yourself for things that may have gone wrong only leads to feelings of guilt, which of course perpetuates a vicious cycle of distress. Accepting responsibility for your mistakes while thinking of ways to do better in the future is the healthier route. It is unhealthy to believe that everything happens because of you, or to you. Most such occurrences have more than one cause, the least of which is probably your total contribution.
- Mislabeling You misjudge or misinterpret situations. For example, you think that you are a failure when all you did was make a mistake.
- Turning the positive to a negative You find reasons to distrust others, even friends, and tend to dismiss genuine compliments that are freely given. This way of thinking poisons the positive, discourages friendships, and undermines intimacy.
- Thoughts as things You believe your thoughts are real, when in reality they are just thoughts. Learn to let them go, especially the ones that are not objectively true, or that cannot be known for certain. Not doing this can lead to mislabeling, especially when you take something that exists only in your head and you make it real.
- Emotional reasoning You think if you feel something, then it must be true. For example, you feel anxious and conclude with certainty that something terrible will happen.
- Magnify/minimize You tend to shrink the importance of something, or make a mountain out of a molehill. Being able to see things unfold in a clear, objective light is the key, although it’s not always easy.
Awareness is always the first step in the process of change. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you identify and manage your thought processes so you can have a healthier way of looking at life.
Thinking photo available from Shutterstock