I have a bracelet I received from a local counseling agency that reads “don’t believe everything you think.”
I love it because it perfectly embodies a concept I help clients to understand and that is cognitive distortions. Let’s first talk about what cognitive distortions by definition.
Cognitions, or thoughts, can be based upon fact. 1 plus 1 equals 2, for example, is factual. We have no reason to challenge that thought, or any other that is fact-based.
However, at times our brains come up with thoughts that are not true. That is, they are distorted.
As I tell clients, our brains can lie to us! Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that are false or inaccurate and can cause psychological damage.
We simply cannot believe everything we think.
A shy student, Mark, attends a party where he doesn’t know anyone and strikes up a conversation with Ann.
Ann is engaged in what Mark is saying. In fact, she is interested in him and wants to get to know him better.
She makes eye contact and pays attention to every word even asking relevant questions. After 5 minutes, she yawns and Mark immediately thinks “she is bored.
I am literally putting her to sleep. She has no interest in me.” He is not thinking about the fact that her body language showed she was engaged in the conversation up until that moment.
Mark chose to focus on the negative though and walked away thinking she didn’t like him while she was left thinking it was Mark who was not interested.
This is an example of a cognitive distortion that Mark believed and as a result he lost out on a connection and possible relationship with Ann.
The cognitive distortion described above is called Mental Filter. During his interaction with Ann, Mark filtered out the positive aspects (her active listening and interest in what he had to say) and only accepted the negatives (she yawned).
Common cognitive distortions
All or Nothing Thinking.
This occurs when we think in absolutes, such as “I am either all good or all bad.” This is also known as black and white thinking.
Jumping to Conclusions.
This is when we inaccurately assume we know what the other person is thinking. If the barista frowns when handing us the coffee, we may think “she must be annoyed with me” when really she is just having a rough day.
Like with all of the cognitive distortions, also involves a skewed perspective. An example would be a football player who makes a bad play and begins to believe that he is a bad player.
It has occurred when something happens that causes us to make an incorrect assumption.
We all experience cognitive distortions at times.
How much credit or belief we give them varies. It is optimal to learn to discern when a thought is valid versus when it could be a cognitive distortion. I try to help clients identify their common cognitive addictions.
For additional help identifying your cognitive distortion are and how to combat them, click here to schedule a session with me or one of our other therapists.
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