Cognitive Distortions = Unhealthy Thinking Habits
Do not/Try not to become overwhelmed by the many Cognitive Distortions that exist.
Pick 1 or 2 to work on. That’s IT! Pick easy ones to work on.
These are organized in a way to facilitate memory
The Common Ones
All or Nothing
Black and White Thinking
Feelings are Facts
Filtering (to ignore)
The Really Harmful ones (To self-esteem- to others)
Discounting the Positives
The Common Ones
All or Nothing/ Black-White Thinking
You see things or people in absolute, black or white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure.
You define yourself or others in absolute terms such as good or bad, smart or stupid, introverted or extroverted, fat or thin, attractive or ugly, and so on.
Moreover, you may categorize your behaviour as being either completely acceptable or absolutely unacceptable, without acknowledging the many possibilities that lie between these two extremes.
More often, we exit somewhere in the middle of a spectrum versus on one side only. Much of this comes from perfectionist personality types where we have to be perfect or we’re a failure – there is no middle ground.
Example: I’m a failure. Example: I’m right
To overgeneralize things. You often make a broad conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, it is expected to happen over and over again.
For example: You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat and will conclude that things will always happen that way.
You find yourself using words such as “always” or “never.”
Thus, you generalize one instance in the present to ALL other instances.
Pick out the overgeneralizations in this sentence:
“Everything always goes wrong for me.”
Exaggerating Hint Words
Always, Never, Everyone, All the time, All woman/men, all “race”
Once in a while, sometimes, that individual, that specific incident, today
Inferring a person’s possible (usually negative) thoughts from their behaviour and nonverbal communication.
Taking precautions against the worst reasonably suspected case or some other preliminary conclusion, without asking the person.
Making negtive assumptions about what other people are feeling, thinking, and why they act the way they do, in particular, what they are thinking about YOU. Thus, you interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.
Although it is true that people make negative judgements about others; chances are this occurs much less often, and what you’re assuming is far more negative than reality.
They probably think I’m incompetent.
They noticed by hand shaking. They know I’m anxious. They think I’m pathetic.
They think I’m a “know-it-all.”
They are looking at me funny. They must think I look weird.
Mindreading Hint Words
He/She/They, Them, My boss thinks..
Fortune Telling, “Little What If Thinking.”
Also known as: Probability Overstimations
A probability overestimation is a prediction that a person believes is likely to come true, even though the actual likelihood is relatively low. Moreover, the prediction is that things will turn out badly. Said another way, an inaccruately high probability of danger is estimated. Example: A car weaves slightly in the lane next to you and you thnk, “That guy is going to hit me!Trying to kill me!
Hint: Did your self-talk start with “What if..”?
Catastrophe Thinking, “Extreme What If Thinking.”
The worst possible outcomes are predicted. Imagining that basic needs (safety, self-esteem, sustenance, etc.) are threatened.
Thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just umcomfortable. Most of the statements will overestimate a particular negative outcome and underestimate your ability to cope.
Example: A first year student began to get extemely anxious once she learned that she could not take all her courses. Her thoughts rose from an undesirable schedule to not being able to graduate and being jobless and homeless.
Furhter, you assume that if a negative event were to occur, it would be absolutely terrible and unmanageable. Below are more general examples:
Example: I won’t be able to handle it. Everyone will think I’m an idiot, I’m going to look stupid in front of the whole class, and no one will talk to me. I’ll be a social outcast.
Feelings are Facts:
Refers to the tendency to judge or evaluate something illogically, totally on the basis of your feelings. You believe, “if it feels likely, it IS likely. If it feels dangerous, it IS dangerous.” You assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are or will be.
Example: I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly.
I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person. It was my fault.
I feel angry. This proves I’m being treated unfairly.
I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second-rate person.
I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless.
I feel anxiety. Something bad is goign to happen.
I feel ugly, so I am ugly.
Because I feel inadequate, I am inadequate.
I will never get well.
Filtering (Selective Attention):
Focusing entirely on negative elements of a situation, to the exclusion of the positive. This is where you pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all of reality becomes darkened.
Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildy critical. You obsess about their reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.
Magnification (Minimization/ Mazimization)
Giving proportionally greater weight to a preceived failure, weakness or threat, or lesser weight to a preceieved success or opportunity, so the weight differs from that assigned to the event or thing by others.
Therefore, you blow things way out of proportion or shrink their importance. This is also called the binocular trick. When you look through one end of the binoculars, all your shortcomings seem as huge as Mt. Fuji. When you look through the other end, all your strenghts and positives qualities seem to shrink to nothing.
Hence, you exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, and/or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities.
Example: Focusing on a personal flaw
focusing on another’s achievement and ignoring your own contributions
Focusing on someone else’s desirable qualities while comparing your own imperfections.
The Really Harmful Ones (To Self-Esteem and to Others)
Discounting The Positive:
You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count.” Discounting the positives takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.
Example: If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done better.
When you disbelieve a compliment or positive appraisal.
When you give away or deny good things that come your way, such as gifts or compliments.
Labelling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser,” “a fool,” “a failure.” or “a jerk.” Labelling is irrational simply because you are important as a person. You are not only worthwhile by what you do. Only humans exist, losers, fools, jerks do not. These labels can lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem.
You may also label others. When someone does something that bothers you, you may lebel that person, “she’s a nag” “He’s a freak”. In that moment, you see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.
We have a list if rules about how we and others should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may believe they are trying to motivate themselves with should and shouldn’ts, and yet the outcome of using “shoulds” is the complete opposite. For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” “Musts,” “oughts” and “have tos” are similar offenders. Should statements, which are hidden perfectionist expectations, are incorrect or exaggerated assumptions about how things should occur. The emotional consequence is guilt. Lastly, when a person directs should statements to others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment.
Example: He shouldn’t be so stubborn and argumentative.
Example: After playing a difficult piece on piano, a gifted pianist told herself, ‘I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.” This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days.
Example: I shouldn’t eat that doughnut.
Example: I should visit my family every Sunday.
This usually doesn’t work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite.
Should Hint Words
I choose to
I hope to
I want to
I plan on
(get into action )
Personalization is the tendency to take things personally and make things about you when they are not about you. You may do this automatically without fact finding first.
To define further,
Personalization occurs when you hold yourself responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. You may take on all the responsibility rather than acknowledge the different factors that may have contributed to the situation.
Personalization also happens when you frequently compare yourself to what you are hearing and seeing, “That happens to me too”, “I have that”, “Wait,I have that”. “I’ve been there.” Essentially, making it about you.
Personalization also occurs when you think or believe what people saying or doing (e.g. laughing down the hallway, have a grumpy look on their face) is in direct reaction or relation to YOU.
If this is a habit for you, you are likely to find yourself overreacting to interpersonal interactions. That is because personalization confuses understanding and boundaries in relationships, especially around dependency and co-dependency issues.
It increases social anxiety.
It’s no wonder that Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy!
Rule: Don’t personalize other people’s inappropriate behaviour.
Example: When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, “This shows what a bad mom I am,” instead of trying to pinpoint the actual cause of the problem.
Example: When another woman’s husband yelled at her, she told herself. “If only I were a better wife, he wouldn’t yell at me.”
Example: My boss is in a bad mood today; he must be angry with me.
When we hold other people responsible for our own pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem, we are doing a great injustice to ourselves and to others. instead of pinpointing the cause of a problem, you assign blame. This distortion robs you of appropriate responsibility, and prevents growth. Blame usually doesn’t work very well and will just get tossed back and forth without result or movement.
SELF BLAME: You blame yourself for something you weren’t responsible for or beat up on yourself relentlessly whenever you make a mistake.
OTHER BLAME: Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problem, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem.
Example: The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.
Example: I’m a terrible mother.
Example: I’m a lousy friend.
Example: Stop making me feel bad about myself!
Nobody can “Make” use feel any particular way- only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions (Byron Katie does a lot of this sort of talk). Only if we believe a persons negative perception of us do we hurt (ourselves).
Unfavourably comparing yourself is like having a special magnifying glass that magnifies some things (your negatives, other people’s positives) and shrinks others ( your positives, other people’s negatives.) Try recognizing everyone (including yourself) as having unique strengths and weaknesses. If you have to compare, try to compare evenly – include both favourable and unfavourable comparisons.
Example: “She’s thinner, so she’s prettier and smarter; who cares if I have nice hair?”
Example: “He is more interesting and intelligent because he owns his own business; who cares if I make more?”
Reference: This material is from OTMH, Third Line,Oakville ON