Challenging Cognitive Distortions
The one most important piece of advice I have to give is this: Do not take something negative that someone says personally- it may be true – or perhaps it is simply the individual’s distorted perception. We are each quite capable of creative interpretations – of cognitive distortions. You may be asking- what exactly is that?? Cognitive distortions are exaggerated and irrational thoughts that can hold us back from our true potential. There are many recognized cognitive distortions that are helpful to be familiar with – so you can turn yourself around and also recognize when others are on that path. This is helpful in ‘not taking things personally,’ and puts you in the position to share your recognition of that with the one experiencing it.
Here they are:
1. All or Nothing Thinking: You see things in extreme, ‘black or white’ categories. If your performance falls short of 100% you see yourself as a total failure. Any mistake or imperfection is feared as being a loser! Example: Actor who considers a performance a disaster because of one critic.
2. Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Example: You go for a job interview and don’t get the offer- you fear lifelong unemployment. Pain of rejection can easily lead to over generalization.
3. Mental Filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, thus perceiving the whole situation as negative. Example: Student dwells on questions he missed even if he got a 90!
4. Disqualifying the Positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they ‘don’t count’ for some reason or another. In this way, you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your every day experiences. Example: You get a compliment- you turn around and say the person giving it isn’t sincere.
5. Jumping to Conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even without definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
a. Mind Reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. Example: You leave a message for someone who doesn’t return your call. You assume they don’t like you.
b. Fortune Teller: Anticipation that things will turn out badly, and feeling convinced that the prediction is an already established fact. When you do this, you plan to fail. The opposite of this is positive attitude, seeing the glass at least ‘half full’.
6. Magnification or Minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your ‘goofup’ or someone else’s achievement) or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or another’s imperfections). This is called the ‘binocular trick’. Examplemissing a question in medical school and thinking that you shouldn’t be a doctor!
7. Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect reality: ‘I feel it, therefore it must be true.’
8. ‘Should ‘ Statement: You try to motivate yourself with should and ‘shouldn’t as if you had to be punished before you could be expected to do anything. The same with ‘must’ and ‘ought’. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct. ‘should’ statements towards others you feel anger, resentment, frustration. Example: I should fill out my progress sheet for class vs. I want to fill out my progress sheet for class.
9. Labeling and Mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing an error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him/her: “He’s an idiot.” Mislabeling describes an event or person in ways that are emotionally loaded.
10. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some external negative event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.
11. What If’s: You can become extremely anxious over the possibilities of what might happen of which you can’t control. We need to work on things we can do something about and not become a prisoner of what we cannot control.
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