Cognitive distortions are irrational patterns of thinking that make an individual perceive reality incorrectly. They often lead to illogical conclusions, extreme emotions, and irrational behavior based on false or exaggerated perceptions. Because these are so deeply ingrained in us we often don’t even realize that our thoughts are false. These are the 10 most common cognitive distortions experienced by individuals:
This thinking error is common in people with perfectionist tendencies as well as those with low self-esteem. It presents as an inability or unwillingness to see anything but extremes. There is no in-between and no shades of gray. People who engage in this behavior tend to ignore the subtleties of life. If you have the following thoughts you may be engaging in all or nothing thinking:
- People are either great or terrible
- Someone is either success or a failure.
- You are either right or wrong. There is no room for shades of gray.
Overgeneralizing is when you make assumptions across the board based on a few instances or experiences. People who overgeneralize often become overly negative after every bad experience because they think it will apply to the rest of their life.
- You do poorly in a math test and assume that you are bad at maths.
- You post a few TikTok videos and are not successful, so you overgeneralize that you will never be a successful influencer – or successful at all for that matter.
- You have a divorce, and you believe that all relationships are destined to end badly.
This is the other side of overgeneralization.
With overgeneralization, you take a small event and generalize it to your whole life. With mental filtering, you take different events and only focus on a specific part of it – usually the negative
This is when you filter out positive information and tend to focus on the negative. You view your life and your future through a negative filter and ignore the positive. If you have feelings of hopelessness or helplessness you may be using a mental filter to view your life. You may be overlooking everything positive in your life and only paying attention to the negative.
- Ignoring all the positive things a loved one has done for you, and only focusing on the negative. This makes you look at them negatively.
- Focusing on all your failures and not paying attention to the times you have been successful
Disqualifying the Positive
This is similar to a negative mental filter, but instead of not noticing the positives in your life, you go out of your way to disqualify them.
When something positive happens, people who use this filter will notice it but assume that it was a fluke. That it cannot happen again and was an anomaly. People who use this filter tend to think that everything they achieve is because of luck, not due to skill or competence.
- I did well on my test because I happened to have studied the right material
- I looked good in that photo because of the way the lighting appeared.
- I got that promotion because all the other qualifying candidates quit. I don’t really deserve it.
Jumping to Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions is when you make assumptions and conclusions without actually looking at all the evidence. There are two common ways of jumping to conclusions; 1. Mind reading, 2. Fortune telling
You assume that someone is thinking things or reacting in a certain way when they are not. You may attribute meaning to the words someone else is saying even when they say they didn’t mean anything by it.
People who mind read often attribute their thoughts and beliefs to other people. These are negative thoughts that they have about themselves and they assume that the other person is feeling or thinking the same way.
- Assuming your partner is judging you for not cleaning the house when they make a general statement about it
- Believing that other people are talking about you because they looked up when you walked in.
- Thinking that the person you are talking to is judging you for what you just said.
Predicting and making assumptions about what will happen in your future – usually in a negative way. Fortune telling often works as a coping mechanism that allows us to avoid doing difficult things because we convince ourselves that we will probably fail – so what is the point of putting in our best.
The truth is that no one knows what will happen in their future, and negative fortune-telling often prevents you from living your life freely because you have already made assumptions about how it will unfold.
- Assuming couples counseling will not be successful for your relationship – so you don’t put in the hard work.
- Not starting your business because you assume it will not be successful.
- Assuming that you will not be able to lose the weight you want to – so not even trying.
In emotional reasoning you let your emotions dictate your thoughts – basing them around how you feel about something rather than what you know. This often shows up as judging situations and yourself based on how you are feeling at the moment is a form of emotional reasoning. When you are feeling good, you think that you are a good person. You make assumptions about yourself and the world around you based on how you are feeling. You assume that your emotions are facts and accurately reflect reality.
- Thinking you are a bad parent because you are feeling down.
- Judging the work that you just completed as terrible, because you were feeling upset or unworthy.
Using Should or should have statements
Should statements make you feel guilty or bad about yourself because you convince yourself that these are things that you should be doing. Should statements lead you to have unrealistic expectations and standards for yourself? Then when you aren’t able to meet your own expectations you feel like a failure or not good enough.
The words “should have” are associated with feelings of blame and shame. They imply that you did not do things the correct way and you “should have” done it differently. They are designed to make you feel guilty and bad about yourself.
- I should be able to do my wedding dance without any mistakes or mess-ups. Then if you make a mistake you get angry at yourself.
- I should always be calm and patient and with my child. This is unrealistic and when you inevitably get upset about something they did you feel guilty and upset at yourself.
- Saying “I should have” been more careful when you drop your glass – so blaming yourself.
With labeling, you assign a label to either yourself or someone else and allow that label to define them.
Labeling leaves no room for flexibility and growth – it gives a one-sided view of people.
- Labeling someone as smart and thinking that everything they say or do is smart/intelligent.
- Labeling yourself as a failure and thinking that you are a failure in all areas of your life.
- Labeling someone as an airhead, and discounting everything they say because you have defined them that way.
Personalization and blame
Personalization is when you think that anything that happens is because one person was to blame, when in fact it was because of numerous factors.
People who engage in personalization often put that blame on themselves. They believe they are to blame for negative situations. When in reality there are usually numerous factors that contribute to the failure which no one had control over.
- Your child hits someone and you blame yourself for being a bad parent. When in reality the behavior was an age-appropriate reaction to the situation.
- A work project tanks and you blame yourself when in reality the project failed because you weren’t given the time or resources to complete it properly.
Catastrophizing is when you immediately jump to the worst-case scenario in most situations. This happens even though the chances of it happening are slim to none. You may feel preoccupied with your catastrophic thoughts and genuinely believe that they have a high chance of occurring.
- You are low on money so you believe you are going to be homeless or go bankrupt.
- You are having a stomach ache and you think what if this is stomach cancer.
- You make a mistake at work and think you will lose your job and have a really hard time getting one again.