Consider the Word Distort
Have you ever started a day feeling amazing and then something happens that makes you feel depressed, anxious, angry and you just want to ________________(fill in the blank)? I know I have and many times when I look back or talk with friends it seems like it wasn’t nearly that big of a deal. I may have misunderstood something a friend said, felt like I didn’t do a great job on a project, or did something to embarrass myself in front of others. When I looked back on these events I discovered a common theme … Distortion. My perspective of myself, others and their intentions were Distorted.
When I imagine the word Distorted I think of going through a circus fun house and seeing those mirrors that completely distort your body. It’s as if your body is twisted and construed in weird and unusual ways. Some mirrors cause you to appear short and wide and maybe even wavy, while others stretch you long. It’s easy to recognize that those mirrors don’t accurately represent your body or features.
Now shift your focus to your thought life and how your thoughts may become distorted like the images in the mirrors. The difference is that you perceive them as true or accurate because you are thinking about them and can’t visibly see the distortion. The thought came from you, so of course you believe it to be true. This can often cause issues in how we relate or respond to others. Our perceptions are built on previous experiences, which become our reality. So if someone reacted negatively toward you in your past, you may have a preconceived idea that others will do the same in the future. And thus, a cognitive distortion is born.
What are Cognitive Distortions?
According to the website Therapistaid.com, a cognitive distortion is an irrational thought that can influence your emotion. When you have a distorted thought you will act on that thought as though it were real. You do this because it feels and looks real and true to you based on the distortion. your behavior or reaction to stimulation. We all experience cognitive distortions, but they can become problematic when we allow them to go unchecked.
Examples of Cognitive Distortions?
Magnification and Minimization: The idea that something holds greater weight than it actually does is a magnification, for example, “I’m the worst!” A minimization is making something seem like “It’s no big deal” ,or “They stole my purse but it’s fine, they must have needed it more than me.” I’ve noticed that hospitals or doctors offices utilize minimization often to help the patients feel more comfortable about a scary procedure. This can be helpful in those settings, but when it comes to your personal feelings, be mindful of ways you may minimize your experiences. The opposite can happen as well when we magnify them and “blow things out of proportion.”
Catastrophizing: The thought that the absolute worst-case-scenario will come true. We will talk more about how to challenge these distorted thoughts.
Overgeneralization: Common phrases used when overgeneralizing are “always”, “never”, “every”, etc.
Magical Thinking: This is the idea that because you follow the rules or are a “good person” bad things won’t happen to you. Its not based in reality. I find this to be something I’ve struggled with before, especially as a Christian. I’ve thought, “I’m a Believer, I trust God, and do what’s right, why are bad things happening to me? Why isn’t life easier?”
Personalization: This happens when you take responsibility for or ownership of another person’s feelings. For example, your spouse responds negatively to you and you think “if I do everything right and perfect, they will be happier.” This thought process does not serve you, or them, well and we will talk about how to challenge it.
Jumping to Conclusions, Mind Reading, Fortune Telling: These distortions are filled with assumptions and can rob you of opportunity for good and pleasurable things. For example, “I’m not going to apply for that job because I already know that someone else better will get it.” Another example is “They didn’t say hi, they must be mad at me.”
Emotional Reasoning: This cognitive distortion gives to much power to your feelings. For example, “I feel like I am a bad wife, therefore, I AM a bad wife.” Feelings come and go, although we need to pay attention to them, they are not facts. Feelings make great informants but terrible masters.
Disqualifying the Positive: This is actively ignoring or disqualifying positive things someone says about you. It tends to come from insecurities or the inability to believe that someone sees good in you.
“Should” Statements: These can get us in trouble, because they are riddled with unrealistic expectations that no one is capable of meeting. For example, “I should always be happy.”
All-or-Nothing Thinking: This type of thinking keeps you stuck in absolutes, when often life is full of gray in-betweens. All or nothing thinking sees the world in terms of black and white; yes and no.
How Do Cognitive Distortions Affect Our Mood?
The CBT Triangle helps bring awareness to exactly how our thoughts impact our mood and behaviors.
A situation occurs, you have a thought about it, which follows with a feeling attached to that thought. Then you have a response or behavior to the feeling/thought and it is generally confirmed in some way which perpetuates the process.
This cycle happens repeatedly throughout your day, which, depending on a negative or positive thought, can improve or impair your daily functioning. The good news is that each point in that cycle, you have a choice.
Ready To Get Help?
This is where you can absolutely get the help you need to make positive changes. You can read books on changing your thoughts to change your life, process your thoughts with friends for accountability, or go big and reach out to a therapist. If you are ready to make a change and want someone trained to help you with these issues then reach out. You can go to NewVisionCounseling.org or call (405) 921-7776 to start your journey towards what better looks like for you today. We are here to help you and hope to hear from you soon.
Authored by Shae Gilbert, LPC and edited Shawn Maguire, LPC at New Vision Counseling and Consulting