What Are Cognitive Distortions?

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A Cognitive Connection was created to serve the brain-related and behavioral needs of the community members of Colorado Springs. In addition to helping you better understand your brain and various behaviors, our team is passionate about educating you about all things cognitive abilities so you can create a strong foundation for understanding your brain abilities. Your brain is unique and powerful and we want to provide you with the tools and resources you need to improve its functions. 

One of the topics we’re going to help you learn more about is cognitive distortions. Now, if you’ve never heard of cognitive distortions before, don’t worry, many people haven’t. The American Psychological Association defines cognitive distortions as a psychological process where an individual creates a false perception or belief of themselves. For example, if you are a college student and are unable to complete an assignment to your professor’s liking, a cognitive distortion would be believing that that one failed assignment means you’ll fail the rest of your professor’s assignments because you are incapable to complete them correctly. 

Cognitive Distortion Examples

Cognitive distortions do not discriminate and anyone can experience this potentially harmful way of thinking. Have you ever overanalyzed an event, created a narrative about the event, and then told yourself that that narrative would repeat itself in the future no matter how hard you tried to accomplish something? If so, you may have been experiencing a cognitive distortion. 

For some people, this distorted way of thinking may happen once or twice but we eventually learn to move on and keep trying. For others, cognitive distortions are a pattern of harmful thinking that begins to interfere with their lives and their relationships. If you are constantly in a pattern of distorted thinking, it’s much more likely for you to feel anxious, depressed, depend on various substances, and form behavioral problems. Some of the most common cognitive distortions include:

  1. Preoccupy yourself in catastrophic thinking.
    • Catastrophic thinking means that even before an event occurs, you expect the outcome to be devastating. You imagine the worst-case scenario in every situation. 
  2. Failure to accept positive events.
    • When something good does happen to you, you make up excuses and fail to accept it. For example, if you have a work evaluation and receive 10 positive comments about your work for the past quarter and receive one comment that talks about where you could improve, you’ll focus on the one “bad” comment and fail to accept all of the good feedback you received.
  3. Practice emotional reasoning.
    • Instead of trusting concrete evidence, you rely on personal feelings to tell you how to judge yourself and the world. Despite your child being healthy and happy you feel like you’re doing a bad job raising her, so you decide you’re a bad mother because you feel like a bad mother.
  4. Using labels.
    • You use negative labels to describe yourself and those around you. You focus on one bad event or mistake and decide that that one instance describes someone instead of all of the good they’ve done.
  5. Using a negative mental filter.
    • You decide to ignore positive events and instead view your world through a negative lens. Using a negative mental filter often increases one’s feelings of helplessness and loneliness.
  6. Jumping to conclusions.
    • You anticipate people’s thoughts and feelings of you or of something you did instead of asking them. An example of this type of cognitive distortion is fortune-telling or predicting the future. You believe you know exactly what’s going to happen in the future to you, so you decide your behaviors don’t really matter.
  7. Overgeneralizing events and experiences.
    • When you overgeneralize, you use one outcome to determine the outcome of all future events. An example of this would be believing you’re going to end up single and alone and will never find someone to love you because you got divorced.
  8. Experiencing personalization.
    • An example of personalization is blaming yourself for something even when it’s completely out of your control. Individuals who experience this type of cognitive distortion often compare themselves to others and believe they are the reason for anything bad that happens around them.
  9. Thinking in extremes.
    • There’s no spectrum, things and people are either wonderful or they’re terrible. If you have a polarized way of thinking, you don’t leave any opportunities for balanced perspectives or outcomes.
  10. Using “should” statements.
    • This type of cognitive distortion is when people focus on what “should” have happened or what they “should” have said. Thinking this way can be extremely tiring and overwhelming and cause you to become stressed and anxious. 

Break The Cycle Of Distorted Thinking With A Cognitive Connection

Cognitive distortions can be extremely harmful to you and can cause you to feel overwhelmed and like a failure. At A Cognitive Connection, we use various forms of cognitive behavioral therapy to help you regain control of the way you think and help you form a healthy bond with your mind. If some of the examples of cognitive distortions above sound like you or someone you love, then please contact our team today and we can help you learn how to identify and challenge these cognitive distortions.

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