Let us all take a journey through cognitive distortions in order to understand them better and eliminate them from your thinking. What exactly are cognitive distortions? They are a negative way of thinking that isn’t accurate. They are irrational and exaggerated thought patterns that we do not want to allow ourselves to entertain. First let’s identify them so you know what to look for:
All or nothing thinking: Black and white thinking. An extreme way of looking at things. Examples: “I didn’t get an A on this test so I’m a failure.”
“You never listen to me.”
Overgeneralization: You take one negative thing and view it as a pattern instead of as a singular event. Examples: “This dinner didn’t turn out because I’m a terrible cook.”
“I hit the curb so I’m a terrible driver.”
Perfect example: My husband tells me five wonderful things that he loves about me. He tells me one thing to work on and I focus on only that one negative thing.
Discounting the positives: The positive things about you aren’t a big deal and don’t matter. Examples:
I worked hard to get my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree but that is no big deal at all.
My kids are great people purely by luck. That has nothing to do with me.
Jumping to conclusions/Mind Reading/Fortune Telling: You have no actual evidence of the negative way you think people are reacting to you or the negative way that you think that things will turn out. You are assuming negative outcomes.
A perfect example of this is me thinking someone is mad at me. I have no evidence of this. I may think that they didn’t text me back because they are upset.
Magnification or Minimization: You make things a bigger deal than they are, or the opposite and you make things a smaller situation than it is. Example:
When I would spill anything in the kitchen, I would be so hard on myself. I started to notice how much I magnify a little mistake. If I magnify things with myself then that also spills over to my husband and children.
Emotional Reasoning: You are reasoning with yourself to feel a way that is negative. Example: “I’m overwhelmed therefore I can’t do this. I feel stupid so that means I am stupid.” We have an emotion, and it leads to a negative way of thinking.
Should Statements: You should all over yourself and others. You criticize yourself that you should be doing something. Examples: “I should always be in a good mood.”
“I should always help people.” “I should be spending the weekend organizing the garage.”
Labeling: The opposite of separating the behavior from the person. You did something you aren’t happy with and then label yourself negatively because of it. “I’m lazy because I sat down on the couch instead of doing the dishes.”
“I’m a bad dad because I missed the football game.”
Personalization and blame: You blame yourself for things that weren’t totally your fault, or you blame others for things without taking responsibility for your part in it. Example:
My husband comes home in a bad mood, and I assume it’s because of me. I don’t think about what might have happened in his day, I just take it completely personally and blame myself.
My friend is overwhelmed with her schedule and cancels on me. I take it personally as if she doesn’t want to spend time with me when it has nothing to do with me.
Now that you know the list of cognitive distortions, how do you get rid of them?
The first step to any issue is to IDENTIFY cognitive distortions when you are having them. You can’t fix or change anything if you don’t know that they are occurring. Start to pay attention to how you think.
Show yourself some COMPASSION and UNDERSTANDING. This has been my theme for the year. I started to get frustrated with myself for being so nice to everyone but myself. Why wasn’t I treating myself with the same compassion and understanding that I give to everyone else? That is not fair, and it isn’t okay. Get frustrated with yourself for giving compassion out to everyone but yourself. Start to treat yourself just like you would treat a friend. Better yet, become your own best friend and be kind, loving, compassionate and understanding of yourself.
It is time to think in terms of shades of gray or as I like to say: think in shades of pink. Our world is not black and white. There is gray everywhere you look.
Ask away! Ask people what they think? Question your way of thinking and ask for other’s opinions. I love to find out how everyone thinks. Use this data against yourself. You may think that you suck at parenting and everyone else around you think’s that you are a wonderful parent. Don’t start telling me that they don’t know the real you. Start looking for reasons why you are a good parent.
Which brings me to looking for evidence. Do you have evidence that you are a bad parent? Maybe you just yelled at your child. Guess what? That doesn’t make you a bad parent. That makes you a tired, stressed, overwhelmed parent. Look for the evidence that you are a good parent. I remember my friend telling me that she is a bad mom. I just listened to how she ran her kids all over the place and got them everywhere they needed to be. That is some good evidence against her theory that she is a bad mom. I can give you all the proof you need but you have to look for it yourself and then believe it.
Journaling is helpful for so many things including reducing and eliminating cognitive distortions. As we start to see patterns in our journal this helps us to identify patterns and practice replacing our negative thoughts with positive ones in our journal.
Refocus your energy. Focus on solving the actual problem instead of worrying about if you are to blame for the problem. It matters so much more on fixing the issue than it does on who is to blame for it.
Transformational vocabulary will work on your distortions effectively. Instead of saying that you made a giant mistake. Change it to, “I made a little bit of a mistake.” Tweaking our language changes our emotions.
Ask yourself an important question: Is how I’m thinking working for me? Do I like how I am feeling? Do I want to feel differently? If you notice that you would like to feel better then this will help you find ways to do it and make it happen.
You deserve to think in a way that makes you happier and more content with your life. I think for me, I was personalizing things that had nothing to do with me. That is the biggest distortion pattern that I found within myself. Once I identified it, I could work on it. I started to notice when I did it and challenged myself. Example: “Seth came home in a bad mood, and it probably has nothing to do with you. Why don’t you ask him how his day was and find out what may have happened at work.” I continue to work on this. What do you notice with your own thoughts? Which distortion do you tend to have and how are you going to work on this?
Let us move from a distorted way of thinking to a new way. We can train our brain to think however we want it to. Start with identifying your distortions and looking for patterns. Find one distortion that you tend to have and then try one of these methods to replace those thoughts. If the method doesn’t work for you there is a list of effective strategies for you to try. Never give up on yourself. I know that you can think in a healthier more productive way.
Laughing, Learning and Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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