It’s the Instagram filter from hell. It’s the Snapchat face-swap of your worst nightmares. Cognitive distortions are the mental filters that we put on situations, experiences, ourselves and other people that make everything seem less than enjoyable. This is a no Likes situation and if it was a selfie it would have been deleted. We’ve […]
It’s the Instagram filter from hell. It’s the Snapchat face-swap of your worst nightmares. Cognitive distortions are the mental filters that we put on situations, experiences, ourselves and other people that make everything seem less than enjoyable. This is a no Likes situation and if it was a selfie it would have been deleted.
We’ve all heard the term ‘negative thinking’, but we rarely have conversations that enable us to understand what that means and how we can break free from casting this bad light on our experiences. Just being able to recognise these cognitive distortions can help to interrupt them before they have a chance to take hold. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy will take the process one step further and will enable you to create new ways of looking at the world.
Here are the top 15 most common mental filters that we can all adjust the contrast on by understanding a bit more about how they work:
Filtering is the process whereby we zero in on the negative and filter out anything good even when there is an abundance of positivity to enjoy. This cognitive distortion takes negative ideas to the extreme and uses them to colour everything else around us.
Polarised Thinking/ “Black and White” Thinking
Nobody’s perfect – especially if you’re seeing everything in black and white. When thinking becomes polarised in this way the stakes are high and we have thoughts such as ‘I’ll never get another job’. If you don’t achieve perfection in a particular area then you imagine yourself as a ‘complete failure’. The reality is that human beings all have strengths, weaknesses and shades of grey in between and failure is often a simple case of inexperience rather than a lack of ability.
Over generalisations give too much power to one single event, person or time in our lives. They are used as a sole piece of evidence for a long term ruined future. Thoughts and false beliefs such as “Nobody else will love me” usually narrate this cognitive distortion. The truth is there are many ways to interpret and handle events.
Jumping to Conclusions
When we are sure of something without any proof we are jumping to conclusions. It is an example of faulty reasoning in which we convince ourselves of an idea with very little evidence such as ‘my friend doesn’t like me anymore – they didn’t reply to my text message’. We may become convinced of this fear and respond badly leading to a series of unnecessary negative events. The alternative would be to take positive action to find out what is really going on before jumping to that conclusion.
Catastrophizing / Magnifying or Minimising
This distortion happens when we blow things out of proportion and imagine that the worst will happen based on a small incident. For example after making a mistake at work we may think that getting sacked or disciplined is a distinct possibility when in reality the original mistake does not match the imagined consequences. This cognitive distortion may also cause us to minimise (or think less of) the valuable aspects of our work and our positive personal qualities.
This is when someone believes that everything they do is linked to the negative situations going on around them – even when there is no logical link. People that suffer from this distorted sense of responsibility falsely believe that they have played a key role in someone else’s negative experiences. For example someone turns up slightly late for a family meal to find that their parents are arguing and imagines: ‘If I’d have been there earlier this would never have happened’.
This distortion makes you feel as though everything that happens to you is a result of something or someone else controlling your experiences. It is the belief that you are a ‘victim of circumstance’ in almost every aspect of your life and that you are totally out of control. People suffering from this distortion may, for example, blame the poor quality of their work on a lack of time and view themselves as a ‘helpless victim’ rather than an active participant in the outcome.
Fallacy of Fairness
This distortion can be felt when things don’t go our way. We become confused that others do not agree with our version of what is fair. When we expect a reward for the good work we’ve done and it doesn’t happen on our schedule the fallacy of fairness is at play within our thought processes. If someone wrongs you and they don’t receive a dose of ‘bad karma’ to meet your expectations the fallacy of fairness is distorting the ways in which you measure situations.
When we assign blame to someone else or ourselves we can feel defeated and in the process we lose the ability to problem solve. Blaming is when we give too much negative power or responsibility to another person, ourselves or an external event for how we feel. The truth is that every individual has the power to positively control how they feel and their emotional reactions. When we blame others for making us feel bad we often see no need to take any further positive action for our own benefit.
We use the terms ‘should’ ‘ought’ and ‘must’ when we believe that others (or ourselves) need to behave according to our own set of personal rules. When people break these rules it makes us angry, if we break our own rules we feel guilt and shame. This cognitive distortion may include thoughts such as: ‘She should have called me’, ‘He should be more grateful for the help I’ve given him’. It is unrealistic to imagine that others should conform to strict rules about how we would like them to behave.
We use emotional reasoning to conclude that because we feel a certain way it must be true. The way we feel about ourselves, our relationships and the situations we find ourselves does not always match up with the objective truth. Just because we feel something in one moment doesn’t necessarily mean that it is absolutely true in the long term.
Fallacy of Change
People suffering from this cognitive distortion expect people to change as it suits them and to their schedules. This unrealistic expectation creates anger and frustration when others are unwilling or unable to meet this desire. It is often accompanied by the need to try and persuade or pressure the other person into changing to suit the demands being made. Underneath this behaviour is the belief that other people are responsible for our happiness.
A person suffering from this cognitive distortion will attach unhealthy labels to themselves or others based on faulty evidence. Instead of seeing problems as isolated – such as failing a test, they may consider themselves ‘a total loser’. This way of thinking is also referred to as mislabelling and can be used negatively to interpret the behaviour of other people too. An example of mislabelling someone else would be to see a woman as ‘a bad mother’ for choosing to put her child in a nursery while she goes to work. The language that accompanies labelling and mislabelling is usually emotionally charged and extreme.
Always Being Right
While being in the right can feel good it is not always right! People suffering from this unhealthy cognitive distortion believe that being wrong is unacceptable. When someone always needs to be right they overlook the feelings of others, even those close them. They view being wrong as unthinkable above being fair and objective.
Heaven’s Reward Fallacy
This is when we expect that our good deeds will be paid off with a reward. It is the belief that self-sacrifice, kindness and putting others first will eventually bring us good things in return. ‘If I do good then good will come my way’. While it is sometimes the case that people respond in kind to our positive efforts it is unrealistic to expect that this will always be the case. This will ultimately lead to wasted energy, frustration and anger that your needs are not being met.