Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Unmasking Five Common Cognitive Distortions

A silhouette of a person holding scissors against a wall

A silhouette of a person holding scissors against a wall. Click image to license. © Evan's Studio, 2016.

Cognitive distortions are unhelpful ways of thinking that can make us feel bad about ourselves and others. Identifying these destructive thought patterns is the first step in addressing them. After you have identified your thought as a cognitive distortion, you can work on replacing it with a more rational explanation. Writing down your automatic thoughts, cognitive distortions, and rational responses under three different columns is known as the triple column technique advocated by Dr. David D. Burns.

Five Common Cognitive Distortions

  1. All or Nothing Thinking - you see things in shades of black and white devoid of any nuance. For example, you tell yourself "I am a total loser" after not being promoted.

  2. Overgeneralizing - you conclude that because one bad thing happened to you it will keep happening and it will always be that way. For example, after being rejected for a date, you conclude that you will always be alone and that nobody will ever want to be with you.

  3. Mental Filter - you focus exclusively on a negative detail and filter out the positives. For example, you read about a massacre in the news and conclude that all people are cruel and evil.

  4. Jumping to Conclusions - you make snap judgments that aren't based on facts. For example, you see a friend of yours repetitively yawn during a conversation and conclude that you must be boring them. Instead that friend was up all night and you didn't bother to consider that explanation.

  5. Disqualifying The Positive - you turn positive or neutral experiences into negative ones. For example, after someone says that they like your artwork you tell yourself that they are just being polite and really don't think that way. 
Want to read more? Check out my recent post about five more common cognitive distortions!