Cognitive Distortions are automatic and habitual ways of thinking that lead to negative perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world around us. Put more simply, they’re self-made lies that we believe. Cognitive distortions are most pronounced when we’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or depressed, because negative mood states alter the way that we think. A vicious cycle begins, because the negative thoughts we entertain exacerbate our dark or anxious moods, which in turn fuels our faulty thinking patterns. Read on to learn about five common cognitive distortions, and what you can do to change them.
1) Emotional Reasoning: You confuse your feelings with reality, and accept your emotions as fact. Examples: I feel guilty for yelling: I’m a horrible person. I’m lonely. No one loves me.
2) Catastrophizing: You only see the worst possible outcome, however unlikely it may be. Examples: I didn’t write this report well. My boss is going to fire me. If I don’t five pounds, I’ll never find love.
3) Mindreading: You draw a conclusion about what another person thinks or feels, based on their nonverbal behaviors. Example: My boss didn’t say hello to me when he arrived to the office. He must be mad at me. I’m in trouble for something.
4) All or Nothing Thinking: You look at things in black-or-white, absolute categories, with no room for ambiguity. Everything is labeled as good or bad, right or wrong, and no area is gray. Examples: I’m a total failure. No one cares about me. I’ll never find happiness.
5) Fortune Telling: You predict a negative outcome based on your feelings, and without accounting for (a lack of) evidence to support your prediction. Examples: I’ll never get promoted. He’ll never forgive me.
Challenging your distortions. The most important step in overcoming negative thinking is to readily recognize and identify your cognitive disortions. Example: I notice I’m mindreading right now. Simply naming the distortion will enable you to take a step back and widen your perspective. Next, examine the evidence: what evidence is there to support your belief? Ask yourself whether your belief is based on fact or feeling. Try speaking to yourself the same way you would talk to a friend or loved one in a similar situation. Very likely, you would offer kindness and compassion to them, so try that on yourself. Finally, for each negative thought you harbor that matches the description of a cognitive distortion, write down five alternative thoughts that are grounded in reality and contradict your negative belief or conclusion.