The 10 Cognitive Distortions

Since Cognitive Distortions are at the very core of the Cognimmune program, it is important to know what these are. Cognitive distortions may be thought of as “your mind lying to you”.  A  problem arises when we start believing these lies to the point where they become our entrenched thought habits. As with any bad habit, the longer we continue to believe these falsehoods, the more difficult it becomes to free ourselves of them. The first step to achieving mental freedom is being able to identify what these distorted thoughts actually are.

Below is a list of the 10 Cognitive Distortions and a brief description of each. If you need a more in depth explanation of any or all of the Cognitive Distortions, there are many sources available online that can provide these for you. What follows is, however, enough information to help you understand the basic nature of all the Cognitive Distortions.

 

Cognitive Distortion #1
“Emotional Reasoning”
Making decisions and arguments based on intuitions or personal feeling rather than an objective rationale and evidence.

An example of Emotional Reasoning is – You feel stupid, so you believe yourself to be dumb. This is despite the fact that your grades in school were as good as (or better than!) others and, after leaving school, in your career and life in general you’ve achieved at least as much as those around you.

Cognitive Distortion #2
“Overgeneralization”
Overgeneralization allows us to rationalize things in any way we want to. Unfortunately the
tendency is to only use this technique to reinforce negative events that we experience.

An example of Overgeneralization is – You are a student and get a poor grade on one paper in one semester, you leap to the conclusion you are a horrible student, you’re just wasting your time and you should quit school.

Cognitive Distortion #3
“Labeling and Mislabeling”
Personal labeling involves creating a totally negative self-image based on mistakes that you make and assigning an actual name (label) to them.

An example of Labeling and Mislabeling is – When writing a test you miss a couple of questions and immediately think “How could I miss such easy questions? I’m such an idiot!”

Cognitive Distortion #4
“Disqualifying The Positive”
This is where you choose to see only the negative undertones of every event of your life to the
exclusion of anything positive. Think of it as a “glass is half empty” kind of attitude that relates to everything.

An example of Disqualifying The Positive is – I did really well by reaching my sales goals this quarter, but I didn’t do it because I’m a good salesperson; I just got lucky!

Cognitive Distortion #5
“Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization”
Distorting aspects of a memory or situation through magnifying or minimizing them such that they no longer correspond to objective reality. In depressed persons, often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negative characteristics are understated. There is one subtype of magnification:

  • Catastrophizing – Focusing on the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just uncomfortable.

An example of Magnification or minimization is – While making a presentation to your team at work you stumble over a few difficult to pronounce terms. As a result you feel that the entire presentation was a disaster and people have lost respect for you as a result.

Cognitive Distortion #6
“All-Or-Nothing Thinking”
This type of thinking is characterized by absolute terms like “always”, “never”, and “forever”.
However, few situations are ever this absolute. There are always gray areas. The technical term
for this type of thinking error is dichotomous thinking. In other words, you see everything in black and white. There are no shades of gray.

An example of All-Or-Nothing Thinking is – You find yourself attracted to someone you have recently met and invite them out to dinner. They politely turn you down because they have other plans. You immediately conclude that no one will ever want to go out with you and that you will be alone for your whole life. The irony of this situation could be that on any other day this person would have happily agreed to go out with you. You just caught them at an inopportune moment and as a result you decide not to ask them out again, missing out on a chance at forming a very happy relationship.

Cognitive Distortion #7
“Jumping to Conclusions”
Drawing conclusions (usually negative) from little (if any) evidence. Two specific subtypes are also identified:

  • Mind reading – Assuming special knowledge of the intentions or thoughts of others.
  • Fortune telling – Exaggerating how things will turn out before they happen.

An example of Jumping To Conclusions is – I missed a deadline at work, now I know my boss will be furious with me (Mind Reading – maybe your boss already understands that the deadline was unreasonable.) In fact, she’s going to be so furious I’ll probably get fired (Fortune Telling the fact is that your boss sees you as a valuable part of her team and would hate to lose you.)

Cognitive Distortion #8
“Should Statements”
Patterns of thought which imply the way things “should” or “ought to be” rather than the actual
situation you are faced with, or having rigid rules which you believe will “always apply” no matter what the circumstances are.

An example of Should Statements is – You go out of your way to give a co-worker a drive home. When you arrive the co-worker doesn’t thank you they simply say “See you tomorrow.” You find this disregard of your generous act and think to yourself “I went half an hour out of my way, used my gas and dropped my co-worker off at their front door. They should at least have the common courtesy to thank me. I would certainly have done so if the situation were reversed.” This can create an ongoing problem because it may lead you to begin resenting this co-worker and this resentment may build over time creating tensions at work. Maybe they were distracted or worried about something and had a reason for “inadvertently” not offering you a thank you. If it is that important to you you might want to ask them. Otherwise it might be best to let the incident go.

Cognitive Distortion #9
“Personalization”
Attribution of personal responsibility (or causal role) for events over which you have no actual
control. In other words you assume 100% responsibility when situations beyond your control go wrong.

An example of Personalization is – One of your children is receiving failing grades at school and you think “it’s all my fault because I’m such a bad parent.” Ironically you have two other children who are both excelling in school.

Cognitive Distortion #10
“Mental Filter”
The technical term for this cognitive distortion is “selective abstraction”. This is a fancy way of
saying that in any situation you will filter out and discard all but the negative aspects.

An example of Mental Filter is – While making a presentation a member of the audience leaves the room. You immediately think that everyone “hates” your presentation and the only reason the rest of the audience has remained is because they are too polite to leave.

 

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