Cognitive distortions – a term used in Psychology to describe irrational, exaggerated thoughts and/or beliefs that distort a person’s judgement of reality, typically in a negative way.
Cognitive Distortions and Why We Should Ditch them:
Good stuff happens. Good stuff happens in the world around us and good stuff happens in our personal lives. Bad stuff also happens. Bad stuff happens in the world around us and bad stuff happens in our personal lives.
The way we think about those bad things (or even the good things), the way we frame them or process them, can build us up or beat the living hell out of us. At the extreme, cognitive distortions can lead us to our own demise. And that is a sad sad thing that I don’t want to happen to anyone.
My daughter has been through a lot of therapy in her young life. Some of that therapy has included retraining unhealthy thought patterns – or what psychologists call “cognitive distortions”. I have included a few of the common ones here. I see some of these thinking processes often in my fellow humans and in myself. Do any of these beasties plague your beautiful psyche? You may recognize one or two of them…
1. Black-and-White Thinking
Seeing things in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. Dinosaurs are either reptilian kick-ass mofos or they’re lame, feathered, kissy-lipped, overgrown chicken McNuggetdweebs.
Black-and-white thinking fails to see that shades of gray exist – gray areas that probably closer reflect reality. Reality that we can work with. Reality that isn’t necessarily a goddawful suckfest but something we can manage.
2. Should, Ought, Must
“Should, ought, and must” thoughts such as “I should’ve reworded that email even though it was late and I was exhausted and I had rewritten it four times already.” Or “I must lose weight or I won’t look pretty.”
These kinds of thoughts can lead to feelings of guilt or shame. Who the hell needs unnecessary guilt?
When “should, ought, must” thoughts are unrealistic and are directed toward others, they can cause us to feel angry, frustrated, and resentful. “That person should be this way or that way or they should have done x, y, or z.” Or “Dinosaurs should NOT have feathers OR lips!!!” Who needs those yucky feelings?
Taking it personally. Someone in my world is angry/hurting/upset – must be my fault. Someone in my world is being an ass – must be my fault. The sky opened up and hailed feathered, lippy dinosaurs on my neighbor’s kale garden – must be my fault.
Personalization creates self blame that could be misplaced. Ask yourself: Do I REALLY deserved to be blamed for the fact that feathered, lippy dinosaurs exist and flattened Mr. Barfwallow’s hairy kale extravaganza?
Assuming you know what another person is thinking (and tend toward assuming the worst). “OMG that person thinks I look like a lame, little chickenshit feathery dinosaur with crappy lipstick on my crappy dinosaur lips!” Maybe that person was actually thinking that I looked rather rad in my vintage Thor shirt. I can’t know. And that’s the point. Maybe I’m causing myself a lot of undue stress by jumping to conclusions.
Magnifying an event to the worst possible outcome and getting stuck on “what if?” thoughts. What if this happens, what if that happens…OMG feathered, lippy dinosaurs raining from the sky! Quick, run terrified screaming in circles, self!
Catastrophizing causes a hella lotta stress. Ask yourself: ARE feathered, lippy dinosaurs likely to rain down on me? Or could it be that the answer is – quite probably not.
6. Discounting the Positive
Ignoring compliments, discounting compliments, ignoring our billions of good qualities to find that one tiny flaw.
Her: “You are so talented.”
Me: “Yes but a stupid, lame-ass, feathered, lippy dinosaur could probably kick my ass at PokemonGo. Just saying.”
We miss out on a lot of great stuff about ourselves when we focus on the negative and discount all those compliments showered on us and all those exceptional qualities that radiate from our awesome selves.
Thinking Patterns and Cognitive Distortions Can Be Changed
According to therapists, thought patterns can be changed. I’m not a therapist so I don’t have the HOW TO CHANGE YOUR COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS answers or lessons. Probably recognizing these thought patterns in oneself is the first step. Then one probably has to learn to shut down or adjust the unhealthy thinking patterns and learn to replace them with healthier patterns of thinking. Note: I am not a therapist. If you are troubled by Cognitive Distortion Beasties, consider seeking out a therapist in your area.
You don’t need to beat up on you so if cognitive distortions are peeing all over your YOU ARE INDEED AWESOME party then possibly think about giving a Cognitive Distortion Buster a call (a.k.a a therapist).
1.Beck, Aaron T. (1976). Cognitive therapies and emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.
2.Beck, Aaron T. (1972). Depression; Causes and Treatment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
3.Tagg, John (1996). Cognitive Distortions. Retrieved from http://daphne.palomar.edu/jtagg/cds.htm#cogdis
Much love to you, my fellow humans.
Go forth and be awesomely you.