A cognitive distortion is an irrational and often negative thought pattern that commonly leads to anxiety, panic attacks and depression. We all, to some degree, labour under distortions on a daily basis.
Distortions cloud a person’s perception of reality and give him or her a negative view of the world. Recognizing these distortions and adapting one’s behaviour to avoid them is imperative to a happy and healthy emotional life. If one can manage to function largely free from cognitive distortions, levels of stress will be minimal, symptoms of depression can be alleviated and panic attacks and anxiety symptoms can also be avoided.
So what’s your brain doing wrong on a daily basis? Where are your cognitive functions overriding your logical facilities? The following are 11 little known cognitive distortions that are bringing you down right now.
11. Fallacy of Change
Fallacy of change is a distortion wherein we expect that people will change their personality and behavior to suit us. Although we’re an adaptable species, it’s easier to encourage others to adapt to our standards than for us to adapt to someone else’s: Thus, we’re more inclined to expect and await the former outcome.
Although everyone suffers from this distortion on occasion, people who persistently live according to the fallacy of change are intractable and find it difficult to adapt. They depend on other people changing their behaviors to suit them, under the impression that this will lead to happiness: But of course, it only leads to conflict and the impossibility of compromise.
This distorted thinking pattern is usually evident in people suffering from anxiety disorders and depression. Overgeneralization involves a person taking one negative event and generalizing it as an endless pattern of defeat and failure.
For instance, if you buy a new smartphone and on its first day of use, it breaks, you might become furious and vow not to buy another phone of that brand again. This is an overgeneralization of a negative event, but does not rely on the facts at hand. This type of thinking can be useful, as it’s a shortcut for decision making and helps us draw conclusions quickly – but not necessarily accurately.
Mental filtering can be one of the greatest causes of stress and anxiety, or it can be a wonderful coping mechanism. It’s the process of magnifying either the positive (i.e. positive mental filtering) or negative (known as negative mental filtering) aspects of a situation while filtering out all the rest. The sort of people who regularly ‘filter’ in the positive way are those of whom we may say ‘ignorance is bliss’. They’ll ignore the potential downfalls or fallouts of a situation in favour of focusing on the good things.
Those who filter negatively are typically those glass half empty folks, who only see the negative impact of a situation and filter out the potential positive connotations. This can be a coping mechanism, to help avoid the conflict inherent in realising the complexities of a given situation. Odds are, your habits and mentality fall into one of these two categories.
8. Disqualifying the Positive
Those who suffer from the psychological disorder of ‘disqualifying the positive’ only focus on the negative aspects of any situation. For example, you might give a perfect speech to your colleagues, most of whom praise and commend you.
However, if you have a cognitive tendency to disqualify the positive, your brain will only consciously register those members who looked bored or seemed to dislike presentation – even if they were the minority. The production of these automatic thoughts reinforces negative feelings and does away with the positive ones.
7. Emotional Reasoning
Emotional reasoning is a cognitive distortion that pushed a person to believe that whatever he feels must be true automatically. The person’s belief is so strong that they’ll follow emotional impulses, despite logical arguments and empirical data that would compromise their emotional decision.
Emotional reasoning plays a significant role in amplifying all the other cognitive distortions since the sufferer reasons based on his or her feelings. It also plays a major role in exacerbating depression. Examples include “I feel insecure, therefore I must have done something wrong” or “he never laughed at my joke, therefore I must be a very boring chap” or “he ignored me, therefore he must hate me with all his might.”
6. Mind Reading
Mind reading is a cognitive pattern which persuades us that we can accurately intuit what other people are thinking from their behavior and nonverbal communication. Thinking this way, we believe that we can know how other people feel towards us.
Based on others’ body language, we often jump to conclusions about what other people are feeling to the point that we even disregard their words. If our subconscious notes a sign of anger, dominance or aggression – for example – then, despite the other party’s insistence of peace, we’d be preparing mentally and emotionally for a fight.
Generally, body language and nonverbal cues are reliable indicators of a person’s mental state, so our ‘mind reading’ abilities can prove useful. Autistic people or, arguably, those with sociopathic tendencies, tend to lack this ‘mind reading’ ability and find human interaction more difficult.
However, when our own convictions about another’s mental state override logic and evidence, then this becomes a cognitive distortion.
5. Fortune Telling
No, this isn’t referring to the practice of systematically predicting someone’s future! In psychological terms, ‘fortune telling’ is marked by irrational thoughts that predict largely negative outcomes or worst case scenarios – like having a crystal ball that only prophecies doom.
This is a distortion controlled by fear, and one which feeds anxiety disorders.
Have you ever found yourself taking things personally? If you answered yes, you may have experienced personalization first hand. With this cognitive error, a person has a tendency to think that everything other people do is a direct, personal attack on them. People who suffer from personalization also incessantly compare themselves to other people to see how they match up.
People with this disorder believe that they are to blame for almost everything; they are the centre of their world. For example, if someone who personalizes finds their friend in a bad mood, they will blame themselves for that mood.
3. Magnification and Minimization
When people magnify events, they blow them out of proportion. It’s a common distortion, but one many aren’t aware they’re doing. When people minimize events, they diminish their significance. Magnification entails blowing a perceived failure, threat or weakness out of proportion while minimization entails diminishing the significance to a perceived success. An example of magnification may occur when a person mispronounces a word and blows it out of proportion while minimization may include a person shrinking his qualities to the lowest level possible.
2. All-Or-Nothing Thinking
Also known as ‘black and white’ thinking, all-or-nothing thinking makes people see situations in black or white. These people do not consider the gray areas. They believe that they have to be perfect or else they are utter failures. Anything less than perfect is unacceptable. All-or-nothing thinking is found in almost all depressed individuals. It leads to perfectionism, and while some perfectionism is good, excessive perfectionism can do more harm than good. It can put a strain on your confidence levels, stress your relationships and decrease your immune system.
1. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy
With Heaven’s reward fallacy, we expect our self-denial and sacrifices to be rewarded and feel bad if they are not. People with this fallacy believe that making sacrifices in their lives will give them heavenly rewards that will keep them out of harm’s way. When they do not get these rewards, these people become stressed and start to feel that they did something wrong to be punished with this pain. An example of Heaven’s reward fallacy could be believing that your house burnt down because you didn’t attend church last Sunday.