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Wanna’ get better? I’ll teach you! Cognitive distortions

Change the Way You Think

“The man is just a loser. He’s shown it in every way, and he’ll never change. He’s always been a bad man, and always will be. There’s no alternative but to stay away from him.”

That chunk of all-or-nothing thinking is an example of splitting. And splitting is a cognitive distortion.

Tens of millions of people worldwide have made similar observations and statements over the years. And I’ll wager a large portion of them came to realize they were absolutely wrong.

Are you one of them?

I want you to apply the dynamics of splitting – to you…

You’ve been enduring depression for decades, and I’m guessing you’ve said to yourself many times, “I’m always going to be depressed. Things will never change.”

But wait! Have you overcome splitting and seen the light when it came to someone else, or a situation? However, when it comes to you – well, I guess that’s different.

Wrong!

“What’s a cognitive distortion?”

A cognitive distortion is an exaggerated and often irrational thought, that has the power and potential to generate chronic depression and anxiety. It’s a major component of cognitive theory and therapy.

Here’s a list of the classics…

  • Splitting: Thinking in absolute terms. Common words used are “always,” “every,” “never,” and “there’s no alternative.” We just worked a great example.
  • Overgeneralization: Making wide generalizations based upon isolated cases.
  • Mental Filter: Forgetting about the positives in an event, electing to focus only upon the negatives, or that which is upsetting.
  • Disqualifying the Positive: An ongoing de-emphasis on the positives, using out-of-the-blue and knee-jerk rationales.
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Drawing conclusions based upon little or no evidence.
  • Mind Reading: Believing one has special insight into the thoughts and intentions of others (non-delusional).
  • Fortune Telling: Blowing out of proportion how things will turn out long before they occur.
  • Magnification/Minimization: The distortion of a situation or memory through magnifying or miminizing, so they no longer correspond to objective reality. “Making a mountain out of a mole hill.”
  • Catastrophizing: Focusing upon the worst possible (amazingly unrealistic) outcome. Or thinking a situation is unbearable or impossible, when it’s only somewhat uneasy. Click here to read my article, “Catastrophizing: Finding a Sense of P.E.A.C.E.”
  • Emotional Reasoning: “I feel it, so it must be true.” It’s about assuming reality to reflect emotions.
  • “Should” Statements: Patterns of thought that imply the way things should or ought to be, rather than what’s truly going on. Also involved may be some very rigid rules that one believes apply at all times, no matter the circumstances. (I do my best to avoid using the words “should” and “ought” – and ask for the same of my clients).
  • Labeling/Mislabeling: A relative of overgeneralization. In lieu of explaining behaviors or events, assigning labels that imply absolute and rigid terms. Mislabeling is about describing an event using language that’s richly colored and emotionally loaded (love that term!).
  • Personalization: Assigning to self personal responsibility for events you have no control over. The same may be assigned to others.

Pause, Absorb, and Gain Insight!

I’d like you to take the time to re-read those 13 cognitive distortions. Go ahead, do it now.

How many rule your life? Even more interesting, you may have known you were using some of them – but how many are just-now revelations?

Okay, some very bright psych-geek minds came up with those terms. But human nature delivered the thinking (and subsequent feeling and behavior).

They’re real – and they play a major role in any presentation of depression and anxiety! Seriously, how could they not?

And isn’t that incredibly hopeful? I mean, as deep-seeded and complicated as some of the dynamics are, we’re not talking about terribly complicated procedures to turn them around and find relief.

You’ve ID’d ’em, and now it’s time to fix ’em…

Next Lesson: Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is the process of learning to reverse/remove cognitive distortions. And the goal is simple and realistic – replacing the junk-thinking with the factual, accurate, and beneficial.

And just watch your emotions and behaviors become healthier in kind.

I’ll teach it to you, okay? Tomorrow. Be here!

What to see a listing of the 275+ chipur articles on the psychology of depression, anxiety, and bipolarity? Go ahead, just click here.

  • James Conal

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  • Well, Bill, these three articles on self sabotage have me feeling like my pants pulled down. Guess that is shame. After umpteen years, I still cannot do this.

    • Well, pull your pants up and and look for different angles. Maybe following the owner’s manual isn’t how you best learn, retain, and change. Dunno, Nancy – I’m just not one to say there isn’t a way – for anyone…

      Bill