Cognitive distortions and well-being clash. They’re like George W. Bush at a press conference and a Middle Eastern gentleman with a shoe.
They just don’t work. So when we think in cognitive distortions, we undermine our mental and emotional well-being.
Thankfully, we have the power to fix our mindset and get rid of the distortions. The first step is knowing what they are. In this article you’ll learn the 15 most common cognitive distortions, where they come from, why they suck and how to get rid of them.
What are Cognitive Distortions
Think of “cognitive” as a fancy word for thinking. So cognitive distortions are “thinking distortions.” They are thought patterns that create a misleading (distorted) perception of reality.
Meaning that we interpret life in a skewed or altered way. This lead us to think things that aren’t true and can have us focusing on negative aspects of a situation.
These irrational and exaggerated thoughts can lead to use feeling depressed or anxious. Or they can compound depression and anxiety that’s already there.
Aaron Beck discovered them in the 1960s. He’s the creator of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And when he noticed his patients had similar, dysfunctional thought patterns that contribute to their depression and anxiety, he named them.
Since then, cognitive distortions have been a staple of CBT. And many people have benefited from uncovering unhelpful thinking habits and reframing them.
15 Common Cognitive Distortions
1. All-or-nothing thinking – also known as black-and-white and polarized thinking. Can lead you to think things are either-or ignoring the complexity of life. “Nothing ever goes right.” “Everyone else is happy. I’m the only one who’s miserable.” Read more about all-or-nothing thinking here.
2. Personalization – is taking things personally, even though they have nothing to do with you. “He looked upset, I must have said something wrong.”
3. Overgeneralization – is thinking that because something happens once it will happen every time. “One relationship was bad, so all of them are doomed.”
4. Jumping to Conclusions– is adding assumptions to a situation in order to fill in gaps. “He didn’t look when I was was speaking, it means he hates me.”
5. Blaming – is blaming outside events for your actions or when you blame yourself for things you had no control over. “They made me upset, that’s why I acted that way.” “They acted with rage, I made them angry.”
6. Fantasy of Fairness – is thinking that everything needs to be fair and that everyone needs to adhere to your scale of fairness. “If they loved me, they would do this for me.”
7. Shoulds – is thinking you need to act a certain way or do certain things in order to play a part that you ascribed to yourself. “I should be able to move on quicker than this, why am I still upset?”
8. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy – is thinking there’s a divine order that’s going to make sure you get rewarded. So you put off your happiness waiting for the reward to come. “It’s OK, I’ll get mine next time.”
9. Emotional Reasoning – is thinking that your feelings determine reality and truth. “I’m feeling anxious, so there must be danger here.”
10. Fallacy of Change – is believing that if something externally or internally changes you’ll be able to get a result you want. “If he would just change this one thing, I’d be happy.”
11. Filtering – is thinking selectively by discrediting the positive aspects of a situation and only focusing on the negatives. “Nothing good ever happens, everything sucks.”
12. Always Being Right – is thinking the need to be right is more important than anyone else’s feelings or beliefs. “I’m right and I’ll make sure they see it my way no matter what.”
13. Global Labeling – is thinking in categories. So an entire section of people is reduced to your experience with someone who has a similar characteristic. “Women are crazy.” “Guys only want one thing.”
14. Magnifying and Minimizing – is when you discredit the positive things that happen and magnify the negative. “So what I got 5 people to buy my product, I wanted more.”
15. Control Fallacy – is believing that you have more control or less control over situations that you do. “If I just do xyz, then I can make them happy.”
Related Article: 3 Common Beliefs You Need to Ditch ASAP
Where Cognitive Distortions Come From
Simply put, our environment. We’re programmed to believe certain things and to think certain ways. Never have I heard a baby come out of the womb and say, “I’m broken” or “all women are ______”. They learn to say that, and they learn to think that from their environment.
We’re encouraged to think in cognitive distortions, and our brain is totally OK with it. Because we interpret millions of pieces of data every second and our brain likes to be efficient. We’re also kinda lazy.
So if we think in generalities, then we don’t need to put any effort and thought into a situation. If we think that every situation is going to end up one way, we can predict how it will work out and spend our time searching for ways to make good on our prediction.
Then we can feel good that we proved ourselves right and think we go this whole thing down.
Meanwhile, we’re depressed and feel stuck.
Why They suck
Cognitive distortions make life rigid. They keep us from seeing the positive and train us to focus on the negative. The more we believe them, the more miserable we become.
They also lead to unfavorable feelings like anxiety, depression and sadness. And can also bring feelings of loneliness, emptiness and hopelessness. All of this combined can bring on depressive states and create long-term anxiety.
When we see life through the cognitive distorted lens, we are living in a reality that isn’t real. We can allow situations to escalate and define life by one bad occurrence. Life loses it’s meaning.
How to Get Rid of Cognitive Distortions
The good news is that juts being aware of the distortions can help reduce their effect. I’m sure while reading the list of the 15 cognitive distortions above there were some that resonated with you more than others. Focus on the ones that really called to you.
Think of times in the past when you had those types of thoughts. Then think of how the thoughts negatively impacted you and the results you were aiming to achieve.
From there you can reframe the thoughts.
So if you minimize positive aspects, you can give gratitude each morning when you wake up and every night before bed. Or if you live in all or nothing terms, you can look for ways to challenge the always or never thoughts.
Learn how to stop all-or-nothing thoughts for good.
17 Writing Prompts to Stop All-or-Nothing Thinking in 3 Easy Steps