Cognitive distortions are thought patterns that cause people to view reality in inaccurate — usually negative — ways. Research suggests that people develop this distorted thinking from stress. These forms of thinking are not helpful, and have the possibility of becoming much worse over time.
But it’s not all hopeless. There is a treatment for this sort of thinking, called cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is beneficial in that it teaches you how to be aware of the type of distortion and address the situation properly. By doing this, you can talk yourself down and essentially rewire your brain to use more effective thinking.
I have gone through this type of therapy, and while it can be difficult to conquer in the moment, it allowed me to reflect on it afterwards and figure out what to do the next time it happens.
There are as many as 50 different cognitive distortions, but I will consolidate that list into the 10 most common. They all tie into and feed off of one another, and that makes it much more difficult to question and identify.
(This post is also really long, so I’ve decided to split it into 2 parts.)
Also called ‘black-and-white’ thinking or ‘splitting’, this refers to when you see something as only good or bad; success or failure; and there is no in-between. This is often used by perfectionists. If they fall short of perfection, they see themselves as a total failure.
I have talked about this one before because I struggle with it often. I didn’t believe there was such a thing as good enough, because I thought that I was never good enough. And because of that, I was a failure.
When worries escalate quickly, often resulting in hysterical over-reactions. An example of this is when you ask ‘what if’ questions. Now, anyone who is aware of their anxiety disorder knows that ‘what if’ questions are the worst questions you could ask yourself. Because the questions become worse and worse, which just fuels your anxiety.
“What if I say something stupid at a party? What if no one likes me? What if I die?” – Chris Hardwick, Funcomfortable
When you blame yourself for things that you have no control over. You believe it’s because of you that something is wrong. I did a lot of this in junior high. To give an example, picture me and one or two others waiting to be picked up after school, which happens everyday. And it’s quiet.
Well, I always thought that it was awkward to have that silence in the room, especially when there’s only a couple of you. And regardless if I knew who the person was or not, I thought it was a problem. And that it was because of me. I caused the moment to be awkward because I was awkward.
It wasn’t until about Junior year that I realized that the moment wasn’t awkward. We were just silent, and that’s ok. I started telling myself, “there’s nothing wrong,” “you’re doing nothing wrong,” “don’t worry.” And that allowed me to calm the anxiety I was feeling. (Unfortunately this delved into something else, and I’ll go more into that in a separate post.)
Assuming you know what everyone else is thinking. Similar to personalization, mind reading is when you’re convinced that other people are talking about you.
Say you answer a question incorrectly in class or pronounced a word wrong when reading aloud. (Worst moments during class, am I right?) When the moment has passed, even hours later, you still believe that your classmates are talking about it.
I did this as well. As explained in the above cognitive distortion, I believed the other kids in the room thought I was awkward or weird. Even when there was no reason–no evidence–to prove it.
So that was part 1. I’ll continue with part 2 in the next post! 💌