Are Your Thoughts as True as You Think?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Are you sure you are the ‘realistic’ one, but others say you are negative? Or have you been called a drama queen?

Your mind might be trapped in what psychologists call ‘cognitive distortions’.

What are cognitive distortions?

'Cognition' refers to mental processes. 'Distortion' means something has moved away from the original.

Cognitive distortions are thoughts that are not actually a match for reality, but a deviation, and an unhelpful one at that. They are also referred to as ‘thinking errors'.

Why are cognitive distortions a big deal?

If we have cognitive distortions, we are seeing the world from a negative, limiting viewpoint and mistaking this for the ‘truth’.

Negative thoughts send us on a destructive cycle. A thought creates a feeling, a feeling creates an uncomfortable physical sensation. The physical sensation pushes us to a negative action, and the negative action creates another negative thought. And on it goes.

10 cognitive distortions you might be caught in

Do these ten cognitive distortions familiar?

1. Black and white thinking.

Also called ‘all or nothing’ thinking, this is where we see the two extremes of a situation but ignore all the various ‘shades of grey’.

The doctor says you need to go for a scan. You decide you must have a deadly disease.

2. Overgeneralising.

One single thing going wrong becomes the reason for something much bigger.

Your boss doesn’t like your presentation. You are going to have to switch jobs. Or you mess up the first cake you try to make and decide you are useless at baking and never try again.

3. Catatrophising.

This is also called ‘magnitfying or minimising’. It means you exaggerate the negative and underplay the positive.

You get a low mark on a university essay, and you are sure you should now drop out as you’ll never amount to anything. And yet when you won a scholarship for the course you just decided ‘they must have had some quota to take more female students, that’s all’.

4. Fortunetelling.

Also called ‘jumping to conclusions’ or ‘mind reading’. You are always sure you know what is going to happen next, or what someone else is going to say or feel, and it's always negative.

Your friend doesn't call when she said she would, so she must be mad at you.

5. Labelling.

When something happens, you turn it into a bad label for yourself.

You forget to put a stamp on an important letter and put it through the post. Instead of it just being a tired person making a mistake, you immediately make it because ‘I am stupid’, 'I am useless'.

6. Emotional reasoning.

You mistake way you feel for the way things are. “If I feel something, it must be true”. And you then believe your feelings so much, you act in ways that make them a reality.

You feel anxious at work, so therefore it must be because the job is not right for you. So you unconsciously stop trying to do a good job. In the end you lose your job and say to yourself, ‘See? I knew it. It was the wrong job’.

7. Shoulds.

This can also be ‘shoulds, oughts, musts’. These three words keep you negatively reframing things in a way that blames and diminishes you, or means you always do things that make you unhappy.

You should work in finance like your friends, you must try harder next time, you ought to have practised more.

8. Personalisation.

You turn everything that happens as somehow about you, and in a negative way.

A friend is tired? It must be you, talking to you must tire them out. Your child gets sick? You should never have gone out and left them with a babysitter.

9. Disqualifying the positive.

If something positive happens you find a reason to make it a negative.

You are given a promotion over two other colleagues. You decide that it must mean the boss wants to sleep with you, or has some plan to get rid of you by putting you in a job that is too difficult.

10. Mental filter.

You block out all good things and focus on what is wrong.

You go out for dinner with someone, and are shocked after to hear them say they’d go back. How can he say that the starter and dessert and service were good, when they undercooked your steak?

Why do cognitive distortions matter?

If we can learn to recognise our cognitive distortions and change them, we can find that we:

What do I do if I am using cognitive distortions?

Consider cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It helps you to gain control of your negative thinking and make better choices.

Ready to stop letting your thoughts keep you depressed and anxious? Book a session with a CBT therapist now and learn to take charge of your mind and make better choices.

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