It represents a paradox; we use it to discover and understand everything around us, and yet we have barely scratched the surface in understanding and discovering it in of itself.
One of the great mysteries is simply how to map every action and motion in the brain, to understand its normal psychophysiology. Psychophysiology is the basis for all for the psychological processes of the brain.
We don’t have a complete understanding of these processes, let alone the disorders or disruptions they face.
A type of disruption, is cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions lie at the center of a field of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The idea behind CBT is that thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are all interconnected and that they can lead you to be trapped in repetitive harmful patterns of negative thoughts that hamper your life severely when left unchecked.
CBT mainly aims to fight and stop cognitive distortions.
So, what exactly are cognitive distortions? Where do they come from?
Here are 15 examples of them:
- discounting the positive
- jumping to conclusions
- control fallacies
- fallacy of fairness
- emotional reasoning
- fallacy of change
- global labeling
- always being right
They’re too many to go through all of them, and they are not fixed, meaning there’s more. So, we’re going highlight a few, then we’ll see how we might stop them.
This distortion can make your life miserable. It even makes the lives of those around you difficult. Basically, you ignore every positive element that might have happened in your day and only focus on the negative ones. You find a way to simply not see what was productive or sweet and dwell on the uglier side of your day. This renders you in a constantly negative mood since it’s difficult to uplift yourself when you can’t see the good in life.
When someone says “Second place is for the first loser”, it’s generally correlated with serial winners who will do whatever is necessary to win. But if you look closely, it’s quite a toxic attitude. This is an “all-or-nothing” manner of thinking and it’s disrupting. Just because you didn’t win, doesn’t define you as a loser. If you got a B, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad student, it simply means you did well, and can do better. For example, you’re on a diet and you didn’t have time to prepare a healthy meal, so you eat junk food.
This sets you up for failure or even depression because you’ll think you’re never be good enough. It also means you can burnout because you’re chasing your goals out of an unhealthy place of mind.
It’s using one instance as an example of what will come to be or happen for infinity.
Instead of analyzing an incident in its own context objectively, we decide to use it as template for the future.
If a person did a mistake once, we assume they will always repeat that mistake. If a restaurant wasn’t good, we decide it always has been and always will be bad. If at one time you went to a party and didn’t enjoy, you think you’ll never enjoy one again. If you applied for a job and got rejected, you assume you’ll always be rejected.
It’s the use of words like “always”, “never”, they define this distortion and the way you think.
Jumping to Conclusions
This is probably well known and it doesn’t need much explanation. We’ve all done it and seen it happen in front of us.
Normally it can be seen as a certain degree of immaturity due to an inability to accurately read reality. In some cases, however, it’s about subconsciously addressing fears or anxieties that we have.
You might have suspected your significant other is cheating on you, and then one day they’re late from work and haven’t answered their phone, you immediately assume the worst. Not because the evidence points to it, but rather because this is your fear almost manifesting itself.
Personalization leads you to process everything happening around as being directly or indirectly related to you. This can be exhausting since it means you weigh everything around you heavily. If your group of friends wanted to eat somewhere and you proposed a different restaurant, on the way there, one of your friends got into an accident. Someone who personalizes this incident would believe that it’s their fault their friend got into an accident.
You perceive the world in one way. That’s it. Everything has to fall in place according to how you see the world and otherwise, your day will be miserable.
You believe you “should” have gone to the gym and therefore blame yourself all day.
You believe your friend “should” be on time otherwise they don’t respect you.
This way of thinking will heavily disappoint you because life is tough and full of surprises and disappointments at every turn.
These were a few examples to illustrate what a cognitive distortion might look like.
They can truly ruin your life, day by day. They will weigh you down and cause to you grow more weary and tired with life’s ever-changing volatile nature. You’ll find yourself a bigger victim to life’s hurdles because, instead of simply reacting to the hardship and moving on, you’re stuck on the way your thoughts and emotions processed the incident.
Basically, these distortions are like a secret agent in your brain making your life harder than it already is, and we need to get rid of them, for your sake and that of those around you.
Here’s a start on how to fight them; cognitive behavioral therapy.
1) Become Aware
Recognize these misguided patterns of thought in the first place. Realize that you have a problem in order to be able to start fixing it in the first place. This is done through something called “Metacognition”.
It simply means thinking about what you’re thinking.
Whenever something happens to you, be it positive or negative, think about the thoughts that occur to you when you react to this situation. Don’t just let your mind steer itself. Run through the day and analyze what you thought and how you felt at every situation you faced. This will help you separate the distortions from who you are as a person.
2) Avoid Absolutes
Accept that there is such a thing as grey, something between black and white, between never and always.
Don’t box yourself in such a small alleyway of thought pattern, give yourself some breathing room.
Accept yourself, with your flaws and missteps and be patient. Learn that growth is necessary and that it’s okay to mess up, as long as you try again. And be just as forgiving to others as well, they’re just as misguided as you.
3) Cherish Your Positives
Don’t allow the negatives commandeer your mind into wiping out the positives. If you turned in a great report, but your boss had a few comments, take away both sides of the situation.
4) No Jumping
Don’t jump to conclusions. Ever.
You can’t read minds, no one can. Don’t think it’s a cool trait to quickly come up with a conclusion to any situation. Take your time, check your reality and calmly analyze every element before deciding what your opinion is.
Our brain cannot be allowed to lead itself. We can learn to better steer it into improving our lives by learning how it works. Recognize the distortions you possess, we all have them, so get to work on finding them and stopping them. A licensed professional can greatly help you in that regard, but you can also do it. Give yourself a break by working hard to keep your brain distortion free. It’ll improve the quality of the life you lead, your relationship, your job, and most importantly, your mental health.
Cognitive Distortions. (2019). Healthline.Com. https://www.healthline.com/health/cognitive-distortions
Casabianca, S. S. (2021, May 6). 15 cognitive distortions to blame for your negative thinking. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/cognitive-distortions-negative-thinking?c=687063271954.
Cognitive distortions: When your brain lies to you (+ PDF worksheets). PositivePsychology.com. (2020, October 31). https://positivepsychology.com/cognitive-distortions/.