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What are Cognitive Distortions? By Josh Pogonitz

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cognitive distortions

One helpful way to cope with mental illnesses is to recognize the different ways that we are thinking. Learning about, recognizing, and then challenging cognitive distortions does just that.  

So, what are cognitive distortions? “Cognitive distortions” are unhelpful thinking styles. The word “cognitive” means the mental action or mental process of taking in knowledge and understanding of something through thoughts, experiences, and senses. In other words, it means a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition. A thought that is “distorted” is twisted, falsely interpreted, and misleading. 

The 10 different common cognitive distortions I have learned about are as follows. I have shared with you short explanations from two of the sheets I was given while in therapy. They contain explanations, different examples, and different ways to cope with each of them. Feel free to print them out!   

  1. All or nothing/black and white thinking - viewing situations, people, or yourself as entirely bad or good, there being nothing in between.    

  1. Mental filter - only paying attention to certain types of evidence.   

  1. Jumping to conclusions - the two different kinds of this distortion are mind reading (thinking that we know what someone is thinking or thinking they know what we are thinking) and fortune telling (predicting the future).  

  1. Emotional reasoning - thinking that the way we feel or the thoughts we have must be true. 

  1. Labelling - labeling ourselves or others.  

  1. Over-generalizing - based on a single event, we then make broad conclusions.  

  1. Disqualifying the positive - discounting the positives that have happened and only focusing on the negatives.  

  1. Magnification (catastrophizing) and Minimization - blowing things out of proportion and shrinking things to be less important.  

  1. “Should” Or ”must” - using terms like “should,” “must,” or “ought” 

  1.  Personalisation - blaming ourselves for things we are not actually responsible for or conversely.  

While in therapy over the past few years, I have learned about these cognitive distortions. Without realizing it, I often think in these ways. Also, for me, my anxiety and OCD tint my perceptions of life, causing me to think and believe in these ways. What this coping technique is, is to learn about and separate ourselves from them, from our mental illnesses. For me, that means separating myself from how my OCD wants me to think which is in the form of these distortions. 

I truly believe that it can be super helpful to learn about these unhelpful thinking styles, gain awareness about how these patterns fit our thought processes, and then challenge them. It may be difficult and painful to practice recognizing these thinking patterns, and that is okay and even normal. You are not alone. Everyone struggles with cognitive distortions. After deeply learning about them in treatment last year, I still find it difficult to challenge my cognitive distortions. Sometimes, it is very difficult to do so because I may strongly believe in the thought distortion I experiencing.  

Two cognitive distortions that I experience are “all or nothing thinking” and “mindreading”. Below are personal examples: 

  • An all or nothing thought- “I did a great job today at basketball practice for the first hour and 45 minutes, but that does not matter at all because I missed the last three shots I took. I played horribly today.” This is similar to other types of distortions.  

  • Mindreading - I often feel tremendous guilt and shame because I feel worried that someone is feeling angry, anxious, or depressed because of me. I may think this way because I worry that I offended them, or triggered anxiety or depression when I did not.  This is also similar to Personalization.  

I hope that learning about and recognizing what cognitive distortions are can bring a sense of hope and relatability to any of you readers. 

We can do this! Sending my love to you all! Peace out! 

#selflove #cognitivedistortions #copingtechnique #youarenotalone #fighter #warrior #yougotthis #wegotthis