8 Most Common Cognitive Distortions and How to Overcome Them
September 01, 2022
There are 8 most common cognitive distortions that are incredibly common. Most people don’t even know when they’re experiencing them! Odds are, when you’re experiencing a negative thought, cognitive distortions are the culprit! So, what are cognitive distortions?
Cognitive distortions are irrational thought patterns or belief systems that usually distort, or “twist”, our perception of reality in an unfavourable way. These thoughts are automatic and run in our subconscious, thus making it difficult to identify them. They impact our mental and emotional wellbeing. When left unchecked, these negative habitual thinking patterns can lead to anxiety, depression, and unnecessary stress.
Are you ready to understand your cognitive distortions? Continue reading to learn about the most common ones to help you overcome them.
“I know everyone said I did a great job with the presentation, but I know I made a mistake and could have done better.”
Someone experiencing negative filtering, or mental filtering, will magnify all negative details and ignore or minimize the positive details. This individual may dismiss a positive experience as a “fluke” or “luck”. Where there is dark, there must be light! On the other end of the filtering spectrum there are those who manage to see the good in everything, and everyone. While CBT techniques won’t make you a “positive thinker”overnight, it will help you challenge those negative thoughts and try to replace them with positive ones. Try challenging negative filtering by starting a gratitude journal, or reflecting on something positive that you may have overlooked. Take time to recognize even the smallest of victories!
Black or White Thinking
“If I don’t get this promotion, I must be bad at my job.”
Black or white thinking is when we experience an “all or nothing” mindset, there is no grey area. Although this kind of thinking can make you feel certain of some things, which has its benefits, it can also blind you to other possibilities. Once you know something is certain, you filter out other options.
Try to reframe your thoughts in a way that allows for other possibilities. Avoid using words like “always”, “never”, and “every”. Instead, start using words like “sometimes”, or “every once and a while”. You don’t need to have all the answers either! It’s ok to say that you need more time to reflect on things.
“I shouldn’t be lazy and watching TV, I should be cleaning the house.”
With the “should/should not” mentality, your brain is giving you a set of unrealistic “rules” that should not be broken. When a “rule” is broken, the individual gets down on themselves and resorts to an extreme, not unlike black or white thinking. These statements can also take form of “ought to” and “must”, telling us that we need to follow these “rules” in order to be perfect.
Challenge “should/should not” thinking by asking why you think you should (or should not) do something. Try to get to the root of the “rule” your brain is giving you, and try to reframe that concept into something morepositive.
“My date didn’t go well, so I must be unlovable.”
Labeling (also referred to as global labeling and mislabeling) is when an individual generalizes one or more qualities into a negative judgement about themselves or others. Due to this, they view themselves or others though the lens of the label and then filter out any other information that may conflict with that idea. For example, if you think something like “I failed my test, therefore I am a failure”, this is an example of the labeling distortion.
If you can relate to this cognitive distortion, try to journal and meditate on why you rely on these labels. Do these labels bring a benefit? Likely, they do more harm than good. Try to separate the actions from theperson, and do so with compassion. Just because someone did not do well on a test, they are not a failure. There are more to people than labels, try to see other qualities that they have.
“It’s their fault that we didn’t do well on the group project.”
When the blaming distortion takes over, you tend to focus on the other person as the source of your negative feelings and refuse to take responsibility. Alternatively, you may blame yourself for every problem youencounter- even things that are outside of your control. These thoughts might sound like “It’s my fault you were late to work.” or “She is the reason we failed the presentation.”.
We need to realize that although we may not be able to control what others do, we can control how we react. Practicing meditation helps you be more in the moment. This helps us accept the things that are out of ourcontrol that we can no longer change. We understand that although we cannot change the outcome, we can change how we feel and react.
“What if I call in sick and get fired?”
Catastrophizing is the worst case, “disaster”, mentality. Here, the individual always jumps to disaster, magnifying the outcome based off of a series of “what-ifs”. In this mindset, fear takes control and your brain tells you these horrible stories of “what-ifs” that scare you, causing anxiety and panic attacks. This is connected to our “fight, flight, or freeze” mentality.
Meditation is a great tool for overcoming this cognitive distortion. When we can calm our mind and slow down the never-ending thoughts about of worst-case scenarios, we can reduce stress and make more informeddecisions. One of the best ways to battle catastrophizing is to follow these thoughts. It may be scary, but I guarantee you, the worst-case might not be as bad as you think!
Mind Reading/Fortune Teller
“I don’t think I did well during the interview, I am not going to get that job.”
The mind reader and fortune teller are a lot alike, they both jump to conclusions, not unlike when we catastrophize. Where the mind reader assumes they know what people think, the fortune teller predicts the future by assuming what lies ahead on their path. Both make these assumptions about themselves or others without taking the time to rationally look at the situation.
Think you’re playing the role of the mind reader or fortune teller? Take this opportunity to find evidence that supports and evidence that counters your assumptions. It’s likely that there isn’t enough substantialevidence to back up your assumptions. It is easy to assume the worst, for both predicting the future as well as assuming how others view us. Fortunately, there often isn’t enough substantial evidence to back up our assumptions.
“My friend cancelled on me last minute, they must not like me.”
Overgeneralization occurs when a person comes to a general conclusion based on a single incident, or a single piece of evidence. Regardless of how many times there has been a positive outcome,the individual always focuses in on the one negative outcome and assumes they can expect that negative outcome to happen over and over again.
This cognitive distortion can become difficult to challenge and can lead people to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To avoid this outcome, we need to retrain our brains to focus on the times things went right. For every time something goes wrong, think about other times it went right! Mindful meditation and journaling to prompts like “When have things gone right in the past?” and “What evidence counters this thought” are a great place to start when battling overgeneralization.
“I feel depressed, therefore I am unlovable”
Those who experience emotional reasoning tend to believe that just because they feel a certain way, that it must be true. Emotions are very powerful and can overrule our rational thoughtsand reasoning at times. With emotional reasoning, an individuals emotions take over their thinking entirely, disregarding all reasoning and logic.
If you’re experiencing this cognitive distortion, try to challenge it by stepping back from the situation and looking at it from a new perspective. If your friend was experiencing this same feeling and thoughts about the situation, how would you guide them? Allow your logical brain to step up and provide some clarity to what is happening.
Hopefully, you have gained a greater understanding of yourself and the cognitive distortions you experience. These sneaky and false thoughts can have lasting negative impacts if left unchecked. Use these tools to become empowered and put an end to cognitive distortions controlling your life.