What Are Cognitive Distortions?
If you look at something through a thick block of glass, the thing may be recognizable but the image will be distorted. You will not see it clearly. There are ways of thinking about things that work just like thick glass. Many of us use these distorting habits of thought and do not realize it. So, what are they?
Ten Frequently Used Cognitive Distortions
OVERGENERALIZATION is when you have one lousy experience or outcome and turn it into an overall pattern in your life. Example: Ed gets upset when the checkout line is moving slow. He thinks, "It figures, I always get in the slowest checkout line."
ALL OR NOTHING THINKING is sometimes called black or white thinking because it means you are looking at something as either/or, or yes/no, without making room for all the possibilities between the extremes. Example: Donna, a journalism major, was so upset about making a grammar error in an article she said, "I am not cut out to be a writer! I quit!"
DISCOUNTING THE POSITIVE means you dismiss positive experiences as if they do not count. Example: Max was complimented by his boss about his work on an important project. Max thought, "It could have been much better."
FILTERING happens when you focus on a single negative aspect of an experience making it impossible to enjoy the many positive aspects. Example: Marie received many sincere compliments after her piano recital but all she could think about was one misplayed note. She was angry with herself for days afterward.
MAXIMIZING and MINIMIZING happens when you blow a problem or weakness out of proportion (maximizing) or you make light of your successes and positive traits (minimizing). Example: For the first time ever, one of Charlie's checks bounced. "Good grief," he said, "I am such a clod with finances; what am I going to tell Shirley? I'll never live this down, I hope none of my friends find out." Example: Cindy successfully completed a degree in psychology. Whenever anyone mentions it she says, "It's not a big deal. In fact, it's meaningless."
ASSUMING or jumping to conclusions involves mind-reading and fortune telling. When you mind-read you have, without proof or reason, decided someone doesn't like you, or is against you. Fortune telling is predicting things will go badly (or ideally). Example: Sarah passed Steve in the hallway and didn't respond to Steve's hello. Steve thinks, "Sarah hates me. I'm such a dweeb." Example: Mary has a biology exam coming up and tells her friend, "I know I will blow this test. I'll end up with a C which will screw up my GPA."
SHOULDING is telling yourself that things should end up as you expect, or that other people should act the way you want them to. Example: After James gave his presentation at work he shut himself in his office. "That should have gone smoother, I should have made my points more clear," he thought, "I don't know how I can face my boss." Example: Terry thinks, "Edie should know better than to wear eyeliner at her age."
EMOTIONAL REASONING is believing that what you feel about something is the truth. Example: Beth knew she was graded unfairly because she was furious about getting a B on her essay.
BLAMING is holding yourself or another person responsible for something not entirely in your, or their, control. Example: When Deb's husband stormed out of the house and squealed the tires leaving the driveway, Deb said, "If only I were a better wife, then Frank wouldn't get so angry." Example: Thomas thought, "This relationship is falling apart because Adrienne is impossible to talk to."
LABELING is like wearing a T-shirt that says "I'm stupid," and you believe it. Most of the negatives we label ourselves with we do not share, but they hurt us anyway. Sometimes we label other people and usually do not mind sharing. Example: "I'm a loser." "I'm such a fool." "He's so arrogant." "She's a weirdo."