Updated: Jun 1
Now you may be thinking, "There is absolutely no way I run around here blatantly lying to myself on purpose." When I began my studies in psychology over a decade ago, I thought the same way. Until I learned what some of the most common cognitive distortions were. Below I will highlight eight of the most common cognitive distortions and tricks to help cleanse your lens or argue against it (thus arguing with yourself).
Our brains are wired to make connections between thoughts, ideas, actions, and consequences. Generally, this system assists us with day-to-day life and day to day decision making. Sometimes, however, these connections are-well-off. Sometimes our brain decides that it will make a connection where there is no true relationship or correlation. In the field of psychology this phenomenon is called cognitive distortions.
Cognitive distortions are perspectives that we take on about ourselves and the world around us. These perspectives are often biased and faulty. However, it is difficult to recognize these perspectives as being faulty as they are such a prevalent presence in our daily lives. This is one factor that makes them so damaging. They are there, we don't know it, and these lies that we tell ourselves make us feel bad. If you are already experiencing symptoms of depression, these errors in thinking (cognitive distortions) can exacerbate your symptoms.
Now you may be thinking, "There is absolutely no way I run around here blatantly lying to myself on purpose." When I began my studies in psychology over a decade ago, I thought the same way. Until I learned what some of the most common cognitive distortions were. Below I will highlight eight of the most common cognitive distortions and tricks to help you cleanse your lens by arguing against it (thus arguing with yourself).
What it is: Think of mental filtering as a type of tunnel vision. We look at one element to a situation and ignore everything else. We notice our failures but ignore or don't even see our successes. When you filter your memories, you may find that you gloss over positive experiences and dwell on any memories that cause you to feel angry, anxious, or depressed.
Example: "I got a ticket now my whole day is ruined."
Ways to argue against it: Shift your focus. Instead of focusing on the problem (real or imagined) or even your perceived losses, shift to identifying coping strategies and identifying what you have of value (show gratitude).
What it is: This one goes by many different names. Sometimes it is referred to as "All-or-Nothing Thinking." Sometimes it is referred to as "Black-and-White Thinking." Other times it is referred to as "Polarized Thinking." Regardless of the verbiage, this time of limited thinking includes no shades of gray. With this style, we insist on either-or choices leaving little room for middle ground.
Examples: "If I am not perfect, I have failed."
"You're either for me or against me."
Ways to argue against it: See life on a continuum. Rarely are people all happy or all sad; all loving or all rejecting; all smart or all stupid. Humans and even life in general is too complex to be either/or. There is room for both/and. You can be both "scared to death" and holding on and coping.
What it is: We make broad conclusions based on a single incident or a piece of evidence. We see a pattern based on a single event. We become overly broad in the conclusions we draw.
Examples: "Nothing good ever happens."
Ways to argue against it: Avoid absolutes and negative labels. Watch for trigger words such as "huge, awful, massive." Instead put a number to it. For example, instead of me saying "I am buried under massive debt," be specific: "I owe $13,000 on my credit card." Also look for trigger words such as "all, always, none, nobody, everybody." You ignore exceptions to the rule.
What it is: We assume we know how others are feeling and their motivations for their actions. We imagine we know what others are thinking.
"She's only interested in your money."
"He's getting ready to fire me."
"This close, he sees how unattractive I am."
Ways to argue against it: Check it out for yourself and generate alternative explanations. Rather than assume you know what others are thinking and feeling, take a wait and see approach and gather the facts. Rather than assume the worse, look for alternative explanations.
What it is: These thoughts often start with "What if." Catastrophic thinking can mean blowing things out of proportion. We expect or even visualize a disaster happening.
Examples: "I'm afraid our relationship is over because she hasn't called me for two days."
Ways to argue against it: Ask yourself: "What are the odds?" Then if you need further help look at real statistics.
What it is: One way is comparing yourself with other people in a negative way or comparing yourself with other people in a positive way but judgmental of others. Another way is when we blame ourselves or take responsibility for something that isn't completely our fault or when we blame other people for something that is our fault.
Examples: "I'm the slowest person in my class."
"I'm better looking than she is."
"My business partner complained of being tired again, he must be tired of
being in business with me."
Ways to argue against it: Comparison is meaningless because we all have strong and weak points. If you assume others' reactions are because of you, stop and ask yourself what reasonable evidence and proof you have. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses.
What it is: When we operate from this thought pattern, we have a list of inflexible rules about how we ourselves should act and how other people should act. Any deviation from this value or standard is seen as bad leading to us judging others and ourselves.
Example: "I should feel better by now."
"I shouldn't make mistakes like this."
Ways to argue against it: Remember that values are personal, we are flexible and our rules are too. Our values may work for us but may not be appropriate or important to others. We are all unique and have different needs, limitations, and fears. Whenever you find yourself using the words "should" or "ought" or "must" full stop. Think of three exceptions to your rule to help overcome this rigidity. Even when a should is paired with a positive action (I should start meditating) it still becomes a judgment. Reframe your should to a positive by stating your desire (I want to start meditating).
What it is: With emotional reasoning, we assume feelings as facts. With emotional reasoning, the thoughts tend to skew toward negative information. These negatively skewed thoughts result in intensified emotions.
Example: "I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot."
Ways to argue against it: Thoughts are not feelings and even feelings do not have to define your reality. Use evidence to assess and substitute more balance and accurate thoughts for these "hot thoughts" that cause emotional reactions.
We get so used to arguing our distorted thinking points that we forget to pause and argue against them. Mainly because we don't recognize it. I hope that this article has shed some light on the matter and has raised your level of awareness on the issue and even given you some ideas on how to spot the distortion and cleanse your lens. Now please know that making this shift will require time and patience- so please be easy on yourself!
We'd love to hear from you. Which cognitive distortion do you find particularly tricky to navigate or overcome? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. If you would like additional coaching and support, please feel free to Contact us today to schedule a personal coaching session. And remember wherever you are on this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.
"We are not retreating-we are advancing in another direction." ~General Douglas MacArthur
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