Let’s take a trip down memory lane…..
In the 1970s, psychologist Aaron Beck proposed the theory of cognitive distortions. He noted that his patients “who experienced depression were relying on false assumptions and errors in thinking”. He believed that if his patients could change those inaccurate thoughts (cognitive distortions) they would be able to change their symptoms of depression.
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Beck’s student, Dr David Burns, continued the research on cognitive distortions and popularized the concept with his book called Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, in which he shared it can be difficult to recognize cognitive distortions, and so we tend to believe they are true.
In this blog post, I will outline some of the more common cognitive distortions and how you can overcome these and even turn them into something helpful, meaningful and TRUE.
Even though cognitive distortions can confuse us into thinking (and feeling) like these thoughts are valid representations of our lives, these thoughts are only reinforced by pent up anxieties negative thinking or emotions.
The trick is to recognize the difference between a cognitive distortion and the TRUTH.
In recognizing these – there are a variety of ways to recognize and manage cognitive distortions so that they will be less likely to affect your mental health.
An example of this is focusing solely on the negative and disqualifying all positive aspects of a situation.
For example, you have your friends around for dinner and you make them dinner. One of your friends turns to you and says “OMG,THIS IS SO DELICIOUS! I can’t believe you made this, you’re really improving your cooking skills. Maybe next time you could add a little more salt though, you know how I love salt”and instead of focusing on all the positive feedback, you focus only on the fact you didn’t add enough salt to the meal.
OVERCOMING – MENTAL FILTERING
We need to re-frame our thinking in this instance. By trying to see value the positive aspects as much the negative aspects, you can re-read the entire feedback and reflect on the positives.
A way I find useful is to look back over all the feedback, and take a moment to do this, whether this is writing it down or mentally. Notice all positives and really take them in. someone has complimented you, and this is an amazing thing! Discard the negatives. Take them with a “grain of salt”.
When you jump to a conclusion via mind-reading, you assume that you know what someone else is thinking.
Mind-reading can trigger all sorts of feelings from stress to complete sadness – this can end up in all sorts off issues. Worrying about what other people think can lead to your developing social anxiety or isolating yourself from people so that you avoid these feelings.
An example of this is – Someone close to you is having a bad day. They come home grumpy and maybe even give you the silent treatment. Little do you know they’re trapped in their own mind thinking about a huge mistake they made at work and what the outcome might be. Instead of thinking “maybe they have just had a bad day” your thinking “omg they’re mad at me, I’ve obviously done something wrong” – This is mind reading, you are evaluating the situation and giving your own outcome of how another person is feeling without knowing.
OVERCOMING – MIND-READING
Ask yourself if you know what someone else is thinking, can you read their mind? In most instances you will be very inaccurate. Re-evaluate your thoughts, putting them on a more positive path. Realize you don’t know, and for further clarification, ask questions!
Underestimating your ability
Every day we are faced with Challenges, and sometimes you might start to doubt yourself and your ability to cope. This can cause you to hold back, avoid certain experiences, in turn stopping yourself from growing. This is underestimating your ability!
Some examples of this type of thinking are “You’re not strong enough to handle a situation”. Or “You don’t feel you can make the right decision, so you let others make them for you”.
OVERCOMING – UNDERESTIMATING YOUR ABILITY TO COPE
A great way to overcome this is to give yourself some daily affirmations, or affirmations at the time you start to feel these thoughts creep into your mind. Tell yourself “I am strong enough, I’ve gotten myself all the way to this point in my life, I can do this too” or “I am smart enough to make my own decisions, I’m strong enough to follow through, and I will make the right decision for me”.
Overgeneralization is when we take a bad situation or event and turn it into the general outcome for all situations. Basically, talking yourself out of taking any chances with a similar situation again. This can stop you from wanting to learn anything, grow further and may leave you feeling hopeless.
Some examples of this type of thinking are “my work fired me, I will NEVER be able to get a job again” or “my relationship has ended, no one will ever love me again”
TIPS FOR MANAGING OVERGENERALISATIONS
When you feel like these thoughts have entered your mind, reframe your thinking and ask yourself – is it true? Will this really be the outcome for all future situations? Realize that you don’t know because you cannot predict the future and don’t let yourself be held back by the fear of the unknown.
Embrace what’s happened, learn from what you can, and continue to grow.
Disqualifying the positive
This cognitive distortion is kind of like mental filtering. It is when everything positive that is said, or happens to you, is disqualified because you either don’t want to believe it, you don’t think it will last, or your focused on a negative aspect of this.
Some examples of this is when – You receive a compliment – you don’t believe the compliment, become embarrassed or overwhelmed and tell yourself the person didn’t really mean what they said – Rather than accepting positivity, you look for reasons it can’t be true. This can lead to self-doubt, low self-esteem or low self-worth.
OVERCOMING – DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE
Rather then telling yourself that you’re not worth the positives, we need to practice accepting the positives. You will be used to putting up a wall instantly and “guarding yourself”. A good way to overcome this is to take a moment, breathe, appreciate the positives, and say thank you, (whether to someone, or just yourself in that situation).
Emotional reasoning is when the emotion your feeling is then generalized to create reasons for situations, in your mind, about what happening. These reasons will mostly be incorrect! As they’re based off how your feeling and not what’s happening.
An example may include, you feel jealous and insecure about your relationship. You then turn these emotions into thoughts and believe your partner may be cheating on you or talking to other people and start to push your partner away or resent them for your own feelings/emotions.
OVERCOMING – EMOTIONAL REASONING
Be mindful of your emotions, let them be there and know they’re there. But don’t use these emotions to control or sway your decisions or judgement. Ask yourself, is this true? Is this happening or am I just feeling down, upset or “off” emotionally?
And always remember that emotions come in waves and can change at any given moment. Things will get better, and you will feel better!
Global labelling is when a person generalizes a group of people based on a negative global judgement of themselves or others.
For example, someone may say something that isn’t intellectual, and you may think “wow they’re so dumb”, and now every time you see this person you have attached an unhealthy label on them, which will continue to be how you view them if you don’t change your thinking.
OVERCOMING – MANAGING LABELLING
Whenever you notice yourself using labels, help yourself to look past this. Challenge the label by reminding yourself that nobody is ever just one thing!
Personalization is when you hold yourself accountable for something that isn’t fully in your control. When something doesn’t work out, you take the blame even if anyone or anything else played a role.
This type of cognitive distortion can create stress because you take on the role of taking all blame and this can lead to resenting others for not doing the same. This can also lead to isolation because you may remove yourself from events as you don’t want something to potentially go wrong that you blame yourself for.
It can help to acknowledge and know that things are VERY rarely just one person’s fault. There are many things that call play a role such us other people, a certain event, even the weather!! Its healthy to accept the role you played in a situation but don’t allow full ownership to fall on you that aren’t your responsibility.
With this your focusing on your flaws, faults or negative experience a blowing them out of proportion and over analyzing situations based on these experiences, whether a negative mental experience or negative physical experience.
For example, imagine you’ve made a playlist on your phone as motivation for your evening workout! You’ve also planned out all the exercises you’re going to do and your super excited because this is going to be an “awesome workout”. You get to the gym and realise you have forgotten your head phones. Instead of pushing through and completing the workout which you had put so much time into planning, you do 3 exercises and go home annoyed!
Even though you got to have a conversation with your friend you hadn’t seen in a while and still had an amazing workout planned, which you could’ve still completed, all you can think about is how annoyed you are about not bringing your head phones.
You’ve magnified a small mistake and essentially, blowing this out of proportion!
TIPS FOR MANAGING MAGNIFICATION
Try to refocus your thinking, ask yourself sme key questions! Is this going to matter in 24 hours? Will it matter in 5 years? Are these feelings helping me? Doing this will pull you out of those negative thoughts and back into the real world! Helping you to focus on the positives and valuing the moments you have!
I hope you have gained a bit more insight to these mental barriers that occur from time to time, and I hope the little tips and tricks come in handy!