Information gathered and prepared by H. Wiens, MSc., RP.
Registered Psychotherapist, Portage Medical Family Health Team
Change your thoughts to transform your life!
What are cognitive distortions and how can I change these thought patterns?
“I just know I didn’t do well with my job interview, so no one will hire me”
“I didn’t get invited. No one likes me.”
“I have a headache, it must be cancer.”
These are all prime examples of cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are biased perspectives we may have about ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time. But if they’re reinforced often enough, they can increase anxiety, deepen depression, cause relationship difficulties, and lead to a host of other complications.
Research suggests that cognitive distortions originate as a means of the brain trying to make sense of stressful life events. In the distant past, when we resided within hunter and gather societies, it was adaptive at that time to be hypervigilant to threat. Thank goodness we no longer have to be on the lookout for predators but the brain may continue to have a negative bias. To alleviate this negative bias, it is helpful to become conscious of the thought process to identify the thought distortions. Thought distortions are tendencies of thinking or believing that are false or inaccurate and have the potential to cause psychological harm.
There are fourteen thought distortions that we can alter by first becoming conscious of the thought process to then find alternative explanations and counter evidence to the presenting scenario, worry or concern.
- All or nothing: Viewing situations in extremes, as being all white or black.
- Overgeneralization: Utilizing the words “always or never” to suggest a never ending pattern of defeat.
- Mental filter: Dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives of the situation.
- Disqualifying the positive: So focused upon the negative that we can no longer perceive positive qualities or accomplishments.
- Jumping to conclusions: Making a negative assumption about a situation.
- Magnifying and Minimizing: Blowing things out of proportion by magnifying the negatives of the situation and minimizing what is going well.
- Emotional reasoning: Believing thoughts to be true based upon how one feels but feelings are not a fact.
- Should and must statements: Statements that indicate an unrealistic expectation of ourselves or others.
- Labeling: Labels occur when we fail to examine the context of a situation thereby believing that the label is a complete representation of the self or others.
- Personalization: Assuming responsibility for others’ behaviours or circumstances outside of one’s control.
- Catastrophizing: Imagining the worst case scenario.
- Mind reading: Assuming that others are making negative evaluations of you.
- Tunnel vision: Only focusing on the negative aspect of a situation instead of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.
- Fortune telling: Predicting doom and gloom in the future.
Steps to changing your thoughts:
- Become conscious of the thought process to identify troubling situations in your life.
- Identifying the thought distortions.
- Identify rationale thoughts by examining alternative explanations. To illustrate, instead of believing the person is ignoring you, consider that instead they may not have seen you or are not feeling well.
- Identify counter evidence. For example: “I am stupid” is replaced with counter evidence, “I am intelligent and creative.”
- Counter evidence can become positive self-affirmations reviewed daily by writing down the names of those within your support system, achievements, compliments, and things that you are grateful for.
- Writing three things that you are grateful for nightly amplifies the positive changes to brain chemistry and its neural circuitry.
- For lasting results, get into the practice of monitoring and challenging your thoughts.