Have you ever caught yourself thinking negative things about yourself that deep down you knew weren’t true? Of course, we’ve all done it at some point, it’s one of those peculiar things which humans do despite not making any sense.
There’s a name for this phenomenon, it’s something that psychologists call a cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are erroneous thoughts that we use to reinforce a negative emotion or idea.
Such a sentiment may sound sensible and correct when we say or think it, but in reality, it is a smokescreen that perpetuates a negative self-concept.
There are many ways to distort our thoughts so that they seem plausible. For instance, we might have a habit of thinking that we are bound to fail when trying new things, an example of all-or-nothing thinking, something that is rarely true in reality.
In this case, this type of thought is self-defeating since it keeps us tethered to a concept that prevents us from taking the kind of risks which can lead to growth.
What are some other types of cognitive distortions that may be holding you back without you even knowing? I’m glad you asked! As you read on, you may recognize one or more ways of skewed thinking that are polluting the way you view life. If so, challenge yourself to confront the negative spin by flipping the script to a positive outcome.
If for example, you engage in the kind of all-or-nothing thinking mentioned above, recognize that such thinking is polarized, allowing you only one option: failure. Rarely does life present itself in black or white terms, there are so many shades of gray in between!
Catastrophizing is a type of cognitive distortion that is closely related to all-or-nothing thinking. It happens when we expect the absolute worst to happen in any given situation and can be characterized as the, “what if?” conundrum.
Do you or someone you know typically respond to situations or opportunities by asking, “What if something bad happens?” “What if I screw up big time?” and so on and so on?
The next time this happens challenge yourself to balance your thinking by asking what positive or neutral outcomes could happen, as well. In other words, enforce a reasonable sense of rationality with yourself.
Filtering is another common cognitive distortion and occurs when we selectively magnify the negative and conveniently filter out the positive facets of a situation. Have you ever zoned in on just one unpleasant aspect of a circumstance or person to the point that this is all you can think about?
When your thoughts become so slanted that you can only envision the negative, you have effectively filtered, or distorted your thinking.
Have you ever been told the world doesn’t revolve around you? It’s true! If you find yourself thinking that everything others do or say is meant to be about you, or take just about everything personally when it’s not meant in that way, you’ve fallen into the trap of personalization.
Personalizing a situation can also take the form of feeling responsible for an event out of your control, e.g. thinking that your presence causes everyone to have a bad experience.
All of us can find ourselves jumping to conclusions from time to time. But, if it is a regular pattern or habit, this tendency can be a form of cognition distortion.
If for instance you or someone you know always assumes what another person is thinking or feeling, it can give a certain sense of comfort and/or control. The problem with this type of thinking is that it is easy to misjudge someone else’s motives or feelings, and jumping to an erroneous conclusion can be costly in terms of false judgments which may result in lost friendships or misunderstandings.
Jumping to a conclusion before having all of the facts is similar to another cognitive misstep, overgeneralizing. In this case, we fall into the habit of using one instance to color our overall perception of how life will be in general, and/or we expect all future situations to mirror a single, specific experience. For instance, if you have a bad experience with a dentist or doctor you may think that all such visits will go badly.
Finally, blaming is one of the most common cognitive distortions. When we blame others for how we feel we are in effect holding them responsible for our emotional state when in fact we alone are in control of how we feel.
It’s tempting to think that when we feel angry, sad, sometimes even glad, that it’s because of how someone “made” us feel. Statements like, “you make me so mad,” or, “you always make me feel bad,” are fallacies. Remember that you are the only person who has control over your thoughts and feelings.
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