The way we think directly effects the way we feel. You probably already know that. But what you may not know is that the thoughts that make us unhappy tend to fall into predictable categories. Cognitive therapists have studied these categories of thinking, and call them "cognitive distortions."
Like the name implies, a cognitive distortion is a way of thinking about situations in the world which does not match up with reality, and which produces negative emotions. Aaron Beck, the creator of cognitive therapy, developed the idea of cognitive distortions. David Burns refined some of the definitions of the more common cognitive distortions.
|Want to change your mood? Change your thinking.|
It is important to recognize that cognitive distortions are both inaccurate ways of looking at reality, and that they make us unhappy. First, recognizing that the distortions are not actual representations of reality can really help us when we challenge them. When we discover that we are seeing things through a cognitive distortion, we can recognize that we are not seeing the truth about a situation.
Second, the fact that cognitive distortions are often at the root of negative emotions means that we can change the way we feel by changing what we think.
Below is a chart listing eleven common cognitive distortions. Read through the chart, and see if you recognize them in your own thoughts. If you do, you can ask yourself what a more accurate way of viewing the world might be.
|All-or-Nothing Thinking||Seeing things in black-and-white, without shades of gray;
believing that the only alternative to perfection is failure.
Example: I am trying to eat less sugar, but I eat a candy bar for a snack. I think, “I've blown my whole eating plan, so I might as well forget it completely.”
|Overgeneralization||Making grand generalizations from very limited evidence.
Example: I plan to go on a hike, and it rains. I start to think, “This always happens. I never get to do what I want.” I've made a generalization about my life from one experience.
|Filtering||Focusing on exclusively negative aspects of a situation, rather
than seeing the whole picture.
Example: I give a presentation to a group, and one person tells me that they didn't understand what I was presenting. I think, “It was a terrible presentation.”
|Disqualifying the Positive||Dismissing positive events as not representative of reality.
Example: After I have a night out with friends, I think, “Well, that was nice. But it was only one night, and my life is usually lonely and no one spends time with me.”
|Mind-Reading||Assuming knowledge of another person's thoughts, beliefs,
Example: I spill something on myself while at a dinner party, and I think, “Everyone here thinks I'm a slob!”
|Fortune-Telling||Predicting a negative future.
Example: I am preparing for a test, and I think, “Why bother to study? I'm just going to fail anyway.”
|Catastrophizing||Seeing any negative event as a catastrophe.
Example: I get pulled over for speeding, and I think, “Now my insurance is going to go up, and that's going to be a financial disaster!”
|Emotional Reasoning||Believing that things that are strongly felt are also true.
Example: I feel frightened of flying, so flying I believe that flying is dangerous.
|Should Statements||Believing that people should always do what is expected of
them, or what is “morally” or “ethically” correct.
Example: I feel that I am basically a caring person, so I believe that I should be in a healthy relationship.
|Labeling||Applying labels as a result of specific events. For example,
thinking “I'm a loser.”
Example: I make a mistake at work, and then I think, “I am a failure.”
|Personalization||Believing that events that occur in the world are personally
directed towards you.
Example: I am stuck in traffic due to construction, and I think, “This always happens to me!”