Cognitive Distortions

cognitive distortionsCognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns, believed to perpetuate the effects of psychopathological states, especially depression and anxiety.[1] It is something that you think, without giving yourself time to consider alternative points of view.1

For example, your boss walks past you without smiling or saying “hi.”1 Would you automatically think, “What did I do?” If so, you may be engaging in cognitive distortion.1 You may not have taken the time to consider that he may not be angry with you, that he may have just gotten off the phone with his wife who is divorcing him.1 We all engage in cognitive distortions from time to time, and they can unfortunately control our emotions and our lives.1 These thoughts are called distortions because they aren’t true.1 They have a powerful influence over how we perceive ourselves, our world, our abilities, and others around us.1

Individuals with or without mental disorders are susceptible to many forms of cognitive distortions.1 However, individuals who suffer from severe depression, psychotic disorders, or mood disorders such as bipolar disorder are even more susceptible to distorted thinking.1 Here are seven of the most common cognitive distortions:

  1. Polarized Thinking. This is also referred to as black and white thinking.1 When thinking this way, everything is either black or white—there is no gray area.1 You have a difficult time being flexible and opening your mind to alternatives.1 Things are either good or bad, you are either a failure or a winner—there is no in between.1
  2. Filtering. When you dwell on the negatives of a situation and ignore the positives, you are filtering.1 This frequently happens in situations where you already have a negative perception going in.1 For example, if you do not agree with your daughter marrying her fiancé, you will go to the wedding with negative feelings and end up ignoring all of the beauty of the occasion: your daughter’s gown, her smile, and the joy she is experiencing.1 You will miss out.
  3. Overgeneralization. This distorted thinking occurs when you make generalized conclusions based on little to no evidence.1 For example, if your significant other treats you badly, you may go into your next relationship believing that that person will treat you the same. Overgeneralization is when you think a certain event will happen over and over again in life.1
  4. Personalization. This is when you believe that everything that happens to you is about you personally.1 The man who didn’t hold the door for you hates you.1 The woman who didn’t smile back at you thinks you’re unattractive.1 Everything is personalized.1
  5. Catastrophizing. This is when you think the situation is more negative than it actually is.1 You automatically think everything is the worst case scenario.1 You begin to exaggerate the reality of situations without considering that it may not be as bad as you think.1 For example, if you receive a less-than-average grade on a paper in school, you believe that you are going to fail the class, although your overall grade is passing.
  6. Jumping to Conclusions. For example, your husband is working long hours and hasn’t been sleeping much.1 Work is busy lately. You and your husband have a small spat over what to watch on TV, and you begin to think that he wants a divorce.1 You are automatically jumping to conclusions. He is just stressed. Your assumptions add to his stress, so he begins staying with a friend overnight.1 Then, you assume he is cheating on you, even though he told you where he is.1 Jumping to conclusions often leads to greater problems.1
  7. Entitlement Beliefs. Feeling entitled can lead to self-centeredness and selfishness, which are  both detrimental to interpersonal relationships.1 When you feel entitled, there is little room for consideration of others’ thoughts, behaviors, or feelings.1 It influences your behavior in negative ways.1

Distorted thinking is one of the most common reasons for depression and anxiety.1 While they are often seen in individuals suffering from severe, untreated mental illnesses, everyone is able to think these ways.1 Being mindful of them and trying to avoid them is the best defense.1

[1] Hill, T. (2014). Understanding Distortions Of Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2014/02/understanding-distortions-of-thinking/

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