Sometimes our minds play tricks on us. They can convince us that untrue things are true, or vice versa.
Cognitive distortions are bad mental habits. They’re patterns of thinking that tend to be negatively slanted, inaccurate, and often repetitive.
These unhelpful ways of thinking can limit one’s ability to function and excel in the world. Cognitive distortions are linked to anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders. They reinforce negative thinking loops, which tend to compound and worsen over time.
Cognitive distortions are systematic patterns of thought that can lead to inaccurate or irrational conclusions. These distortions often serve as mental traps, skewing our perception of reality and affecting our emotional well-being. Let’s delve into three common types: emotional reasoning, counterfactual thinking, and catastrophizing.
- Emotional Reasoning: This distortion involves using one’s emotions as a barometer for truth. For example, if you feel anxious, you might conclude that something bad is going to happen, even if there’s no objective evidence to support that belief. Emotional reasoning can create a self-perpetuating cycle: your emotions validate your distorted thoughts, which in turn intensify your emotions.
- Counterfactual Thinking: This involves imagining alternative scenarios that could have occurred but didn’t. While this can be useful for problem-solving and learning, it becomes a cognitive distortion when it leads to excessive rumination and regret. For instance, thinking “If only I had done X, then Y wouldn’t have happened” can make you stuck in a loop of what-ifs, preventing you from moving forward.
- Catastrophizing: This is the tendency to imagine the worst possible outcome in any given situation. It’s like always expecting a minor stumble to turn into a catastrophic fall. This distortion can lead to heightened stress and anxiety, as you’re constantly bracing for disaster.
More cognitive distortions
|viewing everything in absolute and extremely polarized terms
|"nothing good ever happens" or "I'm always behind"
|focusing on other people as source of your negative feelings, & refusing to take responsibility for changing yourself; or conversely, blaming yourself harshly for things that were out of your control
|belief that disaster will strike no matter what, and that what will happen will be too awful to bear
|"What if tragedy strikes?" "What if it happens to me?"
|A kind of mental bargaining or longing to live in the alternate timeline where one had made a different decision
|"If only I could have done it differently..."
|viewing events or people in all-or-nothing terms
|claiming that positive things you or others do are trivial, or ignoring good things that have happened to you
|letting feelings guide interpretation of reality; a way of judging yourself or your circumstances based on your emotions
|"If I feel that way, it must be true"
|mentally "filters out" the positive aspects of a situation while magnifying the negative aspects
|predicting the future negatively
|tendency for decisions to be shaped by inconsequential features of choice problems
|belief that one's success in a domain automagically qualifies them to have skills and expertise in other areas
|tendency to perceive a relationship between two variables when no relation exists
|inability to disconfirm
|reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict negative thoughts
|tendency when faced with a difficult question of answering an easier question instead, typically without noticing the substitution
|belief that good things tend to happen to good people, while bad things tend to happen to bad people
|assigning global negative traits to self & others; making a judgment about yourself or someone else as a person, versus seeing the behavior as something they did that doesn't define them as an individual
|in assessing the potential amount of risk in a system or decision, mistaking the real randomness of life for the well-defined risk of casinos
|a way of imagining you can wish reality into existence through the sheer force of your mind. Part of a child developmental phase that not everyone grows out of.
|exaggerating the importance of flaws and problems while minimizing the impact of desirable qualities and achievements
|assuming what someone is thinking w/o sufficient evidence; jumping to conclusions
|focusing exclusively on negatives & ignoring positives
|child development phase where names of objects aren't just symbols but intrinsic parts of the objects. Sometimes called word realism, and related to magical thinking
|making a rule or predicting globally negative patterns on the basis of single incident
|attributing qualities to external actors or forces that one feels within and either a) wishes to promote and have echoed back to onself, or b) eradicate or squelch from oneself by believing that the quality exists elsewhere, in others, but not in oneself
|the tendency to see things only from the point of view of those in charge of our immediate in-groups
|a list of ironclad rules one lives and punishes oneself by
|"I should exercise more" "I should eat better"
|illusion that you know exactly where you're going, knew exactly where you were going in the past, & that others have succeeded in the past by knowing where they were going
|academia especially is rife with this one
|keep asking series of ?s on prospective events & being unsatisfied with any answers
These systematic errors in our thinking and logic affect our everyday choices, behaviors, and evaluations of others.