The term “cognitive” relates to a conscious intellectual action involving things like remembering, reasoning, perception, or thinking. “Distortions” on the other hand, are conditions in which a true or natural state has been altered.
Cognitive distortions therefore are alterations in thought processes and patterns that lead to psychopathological conditions such as anxiety and depression. These alterations and internal mental filters increase depression and anxiety which make people feel bad about themselves.
Cognitive distortions involve thoughts that cause inaccurate perceptions of reality. These negative thoughts can contribute to an overall negative outlook on the world and these negative thinking patterns would lead to negative emotions.
Irrational thoughts are born from cognitive distortions and they influence an individual’s emotions greatly. It is quite natural to have irrational thoughts from time to time, but the degree of their intensity and frequency can become very harmful.
WHAT ARE COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS?
As earlier explained, cognitive distortions are irrational and negative thoughts that lead to negative emotions such as anxiety and depression. These negative and irrational thoughts are not based on reality or fact but contribute greatly to the alienation and unhappiness a lot of people feel.
A textbook solution to these irrational and negative thoughts would be to think positively and rationally. As easy as it may sound, extreme cases are handled more intricately. Most people indulge in ruminative thinking–repetitive thinking or dwelling on negative emotions, because it is a form of defense against certain situations and challenges. Although most people do it in response to their anxieties about certain challenges and situations, with the interference or presence of cognitive filters, rumination can lead to increased levels of depression and stress. The cognitive filters cause what little life circumstances we find ourselves much more anxiety-provoking and problematic.
Cognitive distortions are usually habitual thinking errors and how an individual perceives and interprets an event is negatively biased and favored. Mental health practitioners described them in the late 1970 and early 1980s, as thinking patterns that emphasize negative biases and predispositions. Researchers suggest that individuals create cognitive distortion to cope with unfavorable life experiences. The more severe the life experiences or life events are, the more probable it is that cognitive distortions will come about.
Distorted thinking is an alternative to cognitive distortion and as the name suggests, it is a pattern of damaging, harmful, and inaccurate thoughts. Distorted thinking is not an uncommon symptom of several mental health disorders and may even extend to personality disorders and anxiety disorders.
Distorted thinking reinforces negative thinking and feelings that can lead to reduced self-esteem, increased stress and anxiety, development of self-destructive behaviors, and worsen mental conditions.
There are different types of distorted thoughts some of which include, overgeneralization, mental filtering, all-or-nothing thinking, labeling, and emotional reasoning. For example, a person may view themselves as incapable of success, and as a means to cope, they tell themselves things like “I was born that way”, “I’m beyond help”, “Everyone else is better than me” and so on. This form of negative thinking is a result of cognitive filters hindering an individual from making the most of their life and reaching true happiness.
Distorted thoughts have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health. These thoughts can lead to feelings of helplessness, uselessness, and worthlessness. It becomes quite difficult for these individuals to envision a positive life due to the unrealities they have created for themselves. These feelings may also be a top sponsor of the development of depression and anxiety disorders.
Thankfully, there are several techniques that can help individuals identify and challenge their distorted thoughts. An effective technique is cognitive restructuring, which involves the replacement of negative thoughts and emotions with positive and realistic thoughts and emotions. For example, if a person has the thought “I will never become successful”, they can replace it with “I may face problems, but I have the skills and resources to overcome them and become successful.”. This positive approach to thinking will help reduce the likelihood of negative emotions and feelings from surfacing.
COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS EXAMPLES
Cognitive distortions are patterns and sequences of negative thinking that can lead to negative behaviors and negative emotions. These distorted thoughts often interfere with an individual’s relationship and their ability to have a peaceful and enjoyable life.
These thoughts may occur automatically and unconsciously and can affect the way an individual may interpret some event occurring in their life. Some common cognitive distortions with examples are listed below
- Catastrophic thinking: Catastrophic thinking or catastrophizing happens when an individual jumps to the wrong conclusion or creates a worst-case scenario event in their head and then thinking escalates quickly. Take for instance, a student who is running late for school for the second time during the week and starts to think “I know I’m going to be expelled for this, I don’t think I’ll be forgiven this time”
- Overgeneralization: This involves making a broad interpretation from a small number of events. An example is, after three rejections an individual says ” I’ll never find a partner or get married.”
- Fortune-telling: This involves trying to predict the future. Unlike soothsaying, the individual here predicts a negative outcome with little or no facts to show for it. For example, “My blood sugar level is going to be very high soon”
- Magnification and minimization: This involves magnifying the negative aspect of an event while minimizing the positive aspect. For example, “It was only one good grade.”
- Comparison: Individuals may compare themselves with others and frame themselves in a negative way. For example “All my classmates are happier than me”
- Labeling: This involves attaching labels to ourselves, negative labels. For example, “I’m not just an intelligent person.”
- Black and white thinking: These monochromatic thoughts do not allow an individual to be open to other realities. For example, “I never have anything fascinating to say .”
- Personalization: This involves blaming oneself for everything and making it one’s fault. For example, ” We lost the match because I could score”
- Disqualifying the positive: This involves discounting positive things. For example, ” I scored 95/100 on my test, I guess I was just lucky”
- Should statements: This involves thinking that should or must be in a particular way. For example, “I should lose weight so people would like me.”
A cognitive distortions list helps us identify the manners by which these negative thought processes take effect. By identifying these thoughts and thinking mechanisms, individuals can begin to challenge and restructure these negative thoughts into positive ones. This would lead to a more positive and realistic perspective on life and improve relationships with people.
NEGATIVE THINKING DISORDER
Negative thinking disorder is a psychological condition that involves a constant negative outlook on life. Persons with negative thinking disorders tend to have an overall perception of the world with negative emotions. These individuals interpret their experiences and life events in a negative light.
This mode of thinking can be so destructive that it may even affect an individual’s quality of life, relationships, and emotional well-being.
The causes of negative thinking take various forms and they vary from individual to individual. Some common causes of negative thinking include negative ruminations, indecisiveness, overanalyzing, fear of the future, negative self-criticism, jumping to conclusions, lack of self-confidence, self-blame, and so on.
These negative thoughts are bound to create negative emotions and unabated negative emotions can greatly affect one’s quality of life and overall well-being. Researchers suggest that a mix of environmental, genetic, and psychological factors may also contribute to this condition.
HOW TO TREAT COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS?
Regardless if how dire cognitive distortions may present themselves, treatment for this condition has been refined over the years. To treat cognitive distortions one would have to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive ones.
Some tips for treating negative thinking include: practicing mindfulness, meditation, gratitude, journalling, self-nourishment and self-compassion, physical activities, and so on. There is no shortcut or “quick fix” when it comes to treating cognitive distortions, but cognitive distortions may be addressed more directly if the following steps are applied:
- Identifying the distortions: the first step to getting proper treatment is to identify your cognitive and mental filters that are recurrent. Some examples are catastrophizing, personalization, overthinking, emotional reasoning, and so on.
- Challenge the distortions: Once the distortion has been accurately defined and identified, challenge it by asking yourself if the thoughts are accurate. Consider evidence supporting or disproving the thoughts and try to view the situation from a different perspective. There would be a more positive outlook to the situation.
- Practice self-compassion and use positive affirmations.
- Seek professional help: Meeting with a mental health practitioner would help. Cognitive distortions may prove difficult to overcome alone, seeking professional help from therapists can help identify those distortions.
Cognitive distortions at extreme levels can prove difficult, but with the help of professional therapists and your loved ones, you can turn your negative thoughts into positive and realistic thoughts and improve the quality of your life.