Our perception of reality and what we think about our circumstances significantly impacts the way we feel.
For example, if I walk around focusing on the things I wish I had in life I will likely start to feel unsatisfied with my life and all that I do have. Such feelings of dissatisfaction could lead to feeling depressed.
The mind is a powerful thing. And sometimes we do not think clearly about our reality. Such thinking is known as Cognitive Distortions.
Cognitive Distortions can be defined as “exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that are believed to perpetuate the effects of psychological states, especially depression and anxiety”. ***
Cognitive distortions are largely unconscious and automatic thoughts. Often people are not aware of their distorted thought processes.
Dr. Beck, a pioneer in cognitive therapy, was the first to theorize about cognitive distortions. He believed people are born with the potential for rational and irrational thinking. He also believed some people have a predisposition to think more positively or negatively.
This, however, does not mean we can not change our thinking. The first step is to become aware of our thinking patterns.
There are several cognitive distortions but there are 10 that are most common.
This week I will share the first 5.
1) All or nothing thinking: Seeing things in black and white. For example, a straight A student receives a B, then the student perceives oneself as a failure (this was me in high school!).
2) Jumping to conclusions: Coming to a negative conclusion about a situation even though there are no definite facts to support the conclusion. For example, a spouse is upset from a hard day at work but his wife decides he is mad at her.
3) Disqualifying the positive: Changing or rejecting neural or positive experiences into negative ones. For example, a co-worker says you look nice. Instead of accepting the compliment, you think “they’re just being nice, I look awful”.
4) Mental filter: Picking a negative detail and dwelling on it, thus only focusing on the negative and ignoring any positive details. For example, a dancer performs on stage and makes one wrong move. The dancer focuses in on the one mistake concluding she is a horrible dancer.
5) Over generalization: Seeing one negative event as never ending. For example, after a job interview a woman finds out she did not get the position, she concludes “I’ll never find a job. No one will hire me”.
Becoming mindful of our thoughts and their impact on our feelings will likely help us experience life more positively. Learning to recognize these common cognitive distortions will help us understand ourselves and others better.
Do any of these distortions ring true for you? If you are unsure, this next week pay close attention to your mental response to situations.
© 2012 Standing on Peace