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    3 years ago · · 0 comments

    Types of Cognitive Distortions

    Deletions and Mental Filtering

    You most likely agree on the fact that it is very easy to remember our credits and even easier to forget about debts. Our minds are very good at avoiding the useless pains that are caused by uneasy thought. However, deletions happen for different reasons – when it is necessary
    to concentrate our energy on a particular task, we delete every extra perception to help us focus on what we consider most crucial. Even during non-critical moments of our lives, we delete about 80% of the data that reaches our brain. When an individual is anxious, they commonly develop ‘tunnel vision’ where they focus solely on the negative aspects of situations and delete any positive aspects. Sometimes the whole picture can be colored by a single negative detail. For example: Focusing on the one person who doesn’t like you rather than the other twenty who do. A mental filter is when we are presented with a collection of ideas or experiences in close concession, and our minds filter all these experiences together through one funnel to come up with one conclusion. This cognitive distortion plays part largely when it comes to negative experiences, which magnify the negative aspects of past experience and then ultimately trigger an automatic response for future events.

    Polarized Thinking (Black or White thinking)

    Black-or-white thinking is extreme thinking that often leads to intense emotions and behaviors. When things are either ‘black-or-white.’ We’re either perfect, or we’re a complete failure — and there’s no middle ground. When we place people or situations in ‘either/or’ categories, where there are no shades of grey. This doesn’t allow for the complexity of most individuals and situations. Black-and-white thinking does not acknowledge that there are usually several shades of grey that exist between black and white. In seeing only two possible sides or outcomes to something, a person ignores the middle — which is most often the more reasonable ground.

    Overgeneralizing and Categorizing

    Based on one instance in the past or present, you assume that in the future all others will follow a similar pattern. A sense of helplessness often accompanies such overgeneralizations. “Nothing ever goes right for me”, and then feel even worse. Put things into perspective. How true is it that ‘nothing ever goes right for you?’

    Jumping to Conclusions and Mind Reading

    A person who ‘jumps to conclusions’ will often make a negative interpretation or prediction even when there is no real evidence supporting their conclusion. This sort of thinking is often based on what we think other people feel towards us. It can show up as “mind reading” (assuming the thoughts and intentions of others) or also as “fortune-telling” (anticipating the worse and accepting it as fact).


    Magnification is taking a fairly minor negative event and blowing it completely out of proportion — imagining all sorts of disasters resulting from the one small event.
    You can nip catastrophic thinking in the bud by acknowledging it for what it is – it’s simply just “thoughts.” If you find yourself thinking about the worst-case scenario, consider the following: Take your objective stance and put things in perspective. Consider fewer terrifying explanations. Weigh up the evidence that you have (the facts). Do you have enough information to reach the conclusion that she wants to leave you? Focus on what you could do to cope with the situation and the people or resources that can help you. No matter what catastrophic assumption you’ve reached in your mind, it’s unlikely that the world is going to end even if your assumption does come to fruition. And in which case, if the worst- case scenario did happen – you’re most likely capable of surviving and growing stronger as an individual through it all – human beings can be very resilient.

    Personalization (Self-centeredness)

    When you believe that everything others say or do is some sort of direct, personal reaction to you. Also, when you compare yourself to other people and try to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc. If you think in this way, you may see yourself as responsible for some unhealthy external event that you were not actually responsible for at all.

    Self-victimization (Learned Helplessness)

    We’ve all known someone who regularly feels sorry for themselves. Heck, even we fall victim of this mindset once in a while. Self-victimization is when a person reflects on their past trauma, experiences and circumstances (or even their present) and overindulges themselves in self-pity and sympathy. They become so immersed in their negative thoughts and experiences that they begin to live in them permanently. What we focus on in life, we feel. Emotions aren’t illnesses: they’re the results of particular thoughts, and thoughts don’t need curing – they need managing and changing. People with learned helplessness believe they cannot change or that they should be treated a certain way and handled a certain way because they learned from their experiences, peers and family that they are a victim.

    The Fallacy of Fairness

    This is when people become consumed with the concept that certain things in life “aren’t fair”: it’s not fair they weren’t born into a rich family, it’s not fair they’re not taller, it’s not fair that other person got a promotion and not them, it’s not fair that they have depression whilst other people have happy lives, etc. This attitude translates, quite plainly, into someone saying: “the world is not giving me what I want when I want it in the way that I want it when it should be”. Life is never fair: everyone has their moments of struggle, some more than others. There are good people who suffer their whole lives whilst there are bad people who never suffer at all. However, fairness is nothing more about perception and comparison: it’s how we view the world rather than the way the world is.

    Blaming and Irresponsibility

    People find it relieving and liberating to blame other people for the way their life is the way
    it is: it’s X’s fault they have self-esteem issues, it’s Y’s fault they feel depressed, it’s Z’s fault things didn’t go to plan. Whilst it may be satisfying to place blame, blaming others doesn’t alleviate or solve the problems you’re dealing with: only you can fix how you feel about a situation, and only you can get yourself through a situation. When we take more responsibility for the role we play in our own lives (for our actions, thoughts, behaviors, beliefs), the more empowered we are to change.

    Heavens’ Reward Fallacy

    This is where people live in a world of idealism in which they believe martyrdom is a worthy role to play in life. Serving the greater good can be often time be a distortion in our minds of a justification for doing things we want to do and endorsing things we want to believe in. No one is serving the greater good in these scenarios: they’re just using the greater good as an excuse and justification for their actions and behaviors.

    Confusing Feelings with Facts

    Some people can become so distorted in their thinking that they end up defining themselves by how they feel: if they define themselves as depressed, they’ll act depressed and if they define themselves as anxious, they’ll act on the edge and anxious. Note, self-defining is different from expressing to someone you’re feeling on a certain day or through a certain period of time. Feelings are not facts: no one should ever feel the need to define themselves to emotion because they are so much more than that emotion. The danger of defining oneself by an emotion such as depression, we’re psychologically more inclined to feel secure and comfortable being that way (as we assign our self-esteem and identity to it), meaning it’s much harder to help someone out of this emotion and through recovery, as they’ll feel like they are losing a part of themselves.

    Mistaking Believes for What’s True

    Just because someone believes in something doesn’t always mean it’s true. Whilst there are some examples of grounded, scientific evidence supporting many things which were once theories (i.e. beliefs such as evolution), most beliefs are nothing more than beliefs. However, because people put so much personal identity into their beliefs, they distort their beliefs into facts and feel challenged and personally offended by those who challenge or disprove them. Just because you believe something is wrong doesn’t mean it is, just because you believe in a god doesn’t mean there is one and just because you don’t believe in a god doesn’t mean there isn’t one. People, unfortunately, justify many actions with their beliefs: their beliefs permit them to be prejudiced against groups of people, behave certain ways and do certain things.


    When we ‘label’ ourselves based on our behavior in specific situations. We define ourselves by one specific behavior (usually a negative behavior) and fail to consider other positive characteristics and actions. For example: “I’m always anxious” even though this is not always the case, or ‘I’m not good enough’ because you failed at something, even though there are many other things that you’re good at.

    Mystical Guesswork

    We are only ever one thought and decision away from transforming everything about how you’re experiencing life. However, we are most times our greatest enemy by telling ourselves through mystical guesswork that we won’t be good enough, that we can’t do something, that we won’t like something, that we’ll end up feeling this way if we do X, etc. We can’t mystically guess our futures and how we (or other people and situations) will be or feel in the future.

    Ridged Rule Keeping

    When you have a list of rules about how you and other people should behave. Those who break the rules make us angry, and if you break the rules, you feel guilty as a result. People often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with should and shouldn’t, almost as if they must be punished before they can do anything. Such statements provide insight into the standards you tend to uphold and the things you expect of others and yourself. These standards can at times be helpful. However, they can also create unrealistic expectations that you or other people will find it difficult to live up to. The inflexibility of the demands that you place on yourself, others, and the world around you, often means you do not adapt to reality as well as you could. You believe that you “must” have the approval of your friends and associates. This causes you to feel anxious in various social situations and drives you to try and gain everyone’s approval. Adopting flexible preferences about yourself, others, and the world, in general, is a healthy alternative to inflexible and rigid rule-keeping. Rather than making demands on yourself and others, instead, pay attention to language. Replace words like “must,” “should” and “need”, with “prefer”’ “want” and “wish”. Limit approval seeking. Would you have a satisfying life even if you didn’t get the approval of everyone, you’re seeking it from?

    Emotional Reasoning

    Often if we depend heavily on our feelings as a guide, this leads us away from the path of reality. Start paying attention to your thoughts. Watch out for thoughts like “I’m feeling apprehensive, something must be wrong” and recognize that feelings are often not the best way to measure reality, especially if you’re not in the best emotional state at the moment. Consider how you would view the situation if you were feeling calmer. Check to see if there is any concrete evidence that supports your interpretation of your feelings. Is there really any evidence that suggests something bad is about to happen?


    In the opposite way to magnification, which is taking a fairly minor negative event and blowing it completely out of proportion, minimizing is when we play down our own positive attributes. A person who assigns multiple negative labels to themselves tends to promote these definitions before anything positive. Minimization makes us susceptible to being abused, mistreated and taken advantage of as these behaviors against us correlate with how we define and describe ourselves. We devalue ourselves proportionately to how we pedestal and idolize others to the detriment of our self-esteem and confidence, all in the pursuit of humility. It’s easy for many people who have never suffered from low self-esteem to regard those who inappropriately shrink the magnitude of their self-worth with detrimental self-talk as attention-seeking or fishing for compliments; but it is the job of a life coach to be able to identify the difference between those seeking compliments vs. those who truly believe what they are saying. To a conscientious, empathetic and congruent person, low self-esteem can be seen as clear as the light of day; the challenge therefore as a life coach is to give the client the permission to keep employing the same minimizing and magnifying techniques, but reverse the application, and to not feel guilty, arrogant or ashamed of doing so.  Our perception of reality is rarely reality, and cognitive distortions occur when the brain creates faulty connections and, effectively, lies to you. Everyone who reads psychology will be familiar with the phrase, “correlation does not equal causation”, and this is where such a statement applies. It’s commonplace to make connections where there is none when interpreting life as most people assume that because two variables are correlated, one causes leads to the other. Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts and beliefs we unconsciously reinforce over time through mental, or oral, repetition, and are effective at provoking or exacerbating symptoms of depression if propagated over a long period of time. Minimization is a defense mechanism employed to help the individual through adversity, but its power to generate distorted thinking causes more damage in the long term. Starting a daily journal in which you take note of only the positive experiences you’ve had in your day (no matter how minor they are), practicing gratitude, and focusing on building a foundation for self-worth and internal validation will allow you to cease minimalizing your worth and self. Whereas taking a step back from reality, practicing objective questioning and emotional responsibility allows for an empowered and measured reaction to maximization.

    Disqualifying the Positive

    Disqualifying the positive is about processing information in a biased way. Disqualifying the positive is a mental process that changes a positive event into a neutral or negative event in your mind. Instead of feeling pleased with yourself, you feel quite disappointed.

    Tags: , , , , Categories: Psychology



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