Everyone has thoughts that are negative in nature from one time to another but when these thoughts become excessive and are difficult to see beyond, it is considered a cognitive distortion. Managing cognitive distortions is important because they can influence the way that you see the world and how you perceive the things around you. Over time of viewing the world and yourself in this way it can begin to have a negative impact on your well-being and ability to function in your day-to-day life. This can manifest as symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Common Cognitive Distortions

Filtering– focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive.

Catastrophizing– expecting the worst-case scenario and minimizing the positive.

Always being right- being wrong is unacceptable and being right is more important than anything.

Control fallacies– assumes only others are to blame or only self is to blame.

Polarized thinking– or all or nothing thinking ignoring the gray areas in between.

Fallacy of fairness– assumes everything in life should always be fair.

Overgeneralization– assuming a rule from one’s experience.

Emotional reasoning– I feel it so it must be true”.

Jumping to conclusions– making assumptions based on very little evidence.

Shoulds– holds tight to personal rules of behavior judges self and others if rules are broken example “I should be good at this by now”.

There are many other types of cognitive distortions, these are some of the few that you will see most commonly occur.

When recording these thoughts as they come up try to group together the covenant of distortions that are in common for example cognitive distortions using words always or never typically go together. For example “I always do everything wrong” or  “I never get a break”.

Doing this will help you to identify which thoughts are causing the most distress.

Identifying Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions can be corrected by properly identifying the distortion that you are experiencing. By learning to recognize and identify a negative thought you can begin to see patterns where they emerge and have a plan in place as to how to deal with them as they arise.

Once you’re able to identify the situations that trigger these responses you will learn that it typically is not the situation itself but rather your thoughts surrounding that particular instance. This makes managing cognitive distortions easier to achieve because you are able to change your thoughts with a little bit of effort.

It’s common to experience anxiety and not be able to identify any discernible cause that brought the event about. Oftentimes this anxiety can be linked to the use of a cognitive distortion in that instance.

Some of the questions you can ask yourself in a moment like this could be as follows,

When did I first start feeling these symptoms of anxiety?

What was I feeling and thinking when these symptoms began?

When these feelings came up what was I thinking about was it what was going on in the moment or was my mind occupied elsewhere?

Questions such as these can help you identify what thoughts you might be having that are triggering the cognitive distortions that you’re experiencing. If you log these thoughts as they come up when experiencing these symptoms of anxiety over time you will begin to identify a pattern that has emerged.

One way to begin establishing the pattern of keeping track of your thoughts as they arise is to keep a daily mood journal.  Writing your thoughts down as they occur exactly as they came up in your mind will help you to identify which cognitive distortion you’re experiencing most often.

Strategies for Managing Cognitive Distortions

Managing cognitive distortions

Examine The Evidence

Oftentimes negative thoughts are not based on truth. It helps to identify which negative thoughts are actually opinions rather than facts. Write the thought down and analyze what evidence you have that proves this thought incorrect.

For example, let’s say earlier that day you had a meeting at work and arrived late. You may then say something to yourself like “I can’t ever do anything right, I’m so stupid” this is an opinion. Now acknowledging that you did not arrive on time, that is a fact. The thoughts afterward are opinions about yourself based on that fact but one does not simply the other.

Switching Roles

Another way to combat cognitive distortions as they arise is to utilize a technique referred to as switching roles. In this technique, you would identify the negative thoughts that have been occurring and ask yourself “how would You react if someone you cared about was saying these things about themselves”? It is very unlikely that were the roles were reversed and somebody you knew was saying the same things that you are saying to yourself about themselves that you would disagree. Oftentimes taking up this position will help you to look at the circumstance from another angle that may have been overlooked. Unfortunately, we often speak to ourselves in a way that we would never speak to others, especially people we care about. Part of switching levels can also allow you to ask yourself if a friend were coming to you saying the things that you have been saying to yourself, what would you say to them, would you agree or would you point things out that you’ve been overlooking for yourself.

Should Statements

Should statements are a  common cognitive distortion. Using the phrase I should be…, Will often set the individual up for failure. These statements often come from expectations that were placed on people when they were younger either by themselves or by the people around them. A great way to combat should statements is to replace the phrase “I should be…” with something such as “I would like to…” or ” In the future, I will….”. Reframing these thoughts may help change your perspective.

Closing Thoughts

Cognitive distortions are negative thinking patterns that can happen to everyone from time to time. When these thought patterns become more frequent and excessive they can have a negative impact on the person’s mental health and social interactions. Experiencing negative thought patterns can improve and dissipate over time with lots of work and consistency. Oftentimes when someone is experiencing negative thought patterns and it is impacting their day-to-day life, seeking the support of a therapist can help them to reframe the way that they are thinking. Over time with adequate support and tools like the ones listed in this article negative thought patterns will improve.

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