Cognitive distortions are negative thought patterns that distort reality, diminish self-esteem, and exacerbate mental health issues in psychotherapy. Learn how to recognize and correct cognitive distortions.
What Exactly Are Cognitive Distortions?
A cognitive distortion is a type of thinking that causes people to have a negative perception of themselves. These distorted thoughts feed negative emotions, anxiety disorders, and harmful thought patterns. Irrational thoughts are often so ingrained in people's thinking patterns that they are imperceptible, posing a risk to their well-being and emotional reasoning.
People who have cognitive distortions may interpret a positive experience as a negative event. Even when one is feeling good, negative thinking can make one feel unworthy of love, friendship, or affection. Exaggerating and mislabeling can lead to depression and the perpetuation of psycho-pathological states in many cases.
Psychiatrist Aaron Beck studied cognitive distortions and is widely regarded as the father of cognitive behavioral therapy by many psychiatrists. CBT is a treatment that aims to reduce the symptoms of mental health problems, such as cognitive distortions.
List of Cognitive Distortions with Examples
Cognitive distortions come in a variety of forms. Some examples of common cognitive distortions are:
All-or-nothing thinking: This is a type of black-and-white thinking in which people perceive events, feelings, and reactions without comprehending the nuances of others' actions and emotions.
Being always correct: People who perceive opinions as facts exhibit this cognitive distortion. Perfectionists and people suffering from imposter syndrome may have difficulty accepting disagreement.
Catastrophizing: This is a cognitive distortion in which the worst possible outcome is given disproportionate weight, regardless of how remote the possibility of such an outcome is. It is also known as the binocular trick because it involves magnifying or downplaying the significance of events.
Overgeneralizing: This type of thinking involves constructing false patterns from isolated events, resulting in faulty generalizations based on insufficient evidence. Labeling is an extreme form of over-generalization in which people label behaviors with emotional or inaccurate labels.
Mental filtering: This is defined as focusing on the negative aspects of an event while dismissing the positive aspects. This cognitive distortion can negatively impact the perception of an interaction, a relationship, or a personality.
Mind Reading: This is the inference of others' negative thoughts, even when they are unspoken or unlikely to exist at all. This can also lead to fortune telling, which is when someone predicts (usually negative) outcomes that are highly unlikely to occur.
The Impact of Distorted Thinking
Cognitive distortions can have a negative impact on a person's mental health and cause social isolation. Negative rumination can make it difficult to engage in a realistic conversation with others. Such distortions can also cause or be symptoms of depression and anxiety, which, if not treated, can lead to personality disorders.
How to Stop Cognitive Distortions
Cognitive therapy and psychiatry can be effective treatments for cognitive distortions. Exercises designed by mental health professionals can help you reframe negative thoughts and better acquaint yourself with reality.
"facts or opinions" is a cognitive restructuring activity in which you write down your thoughts and categorize them as fact or opinion to demonstrate the difference between objective truths and subjective ideas. There's also "putting thoughts on trial," which involves writing out a simple law case and supporting the good and bad parts of each of your thoughts with evidence to determine their veracity.