Cognitive Distortions

When our mind likes the jokes:

You know what’s funny about our mind? It lies to us all of the time. It makes us think that outside circumstances affect how we think and affect our emotions. This is a common misconception and one that can have an impact on the way we view situations.

Example: You go to a job interview and you find out a week later that, after careful review, the company has decided to go with another candidate. Now you may think, “Ugh, I’m such a failure”, or, “Nothing ever good happens to me”.

Only, what if you thought; “Okay, this one didn’t work out, but I learned alot from this interview. Maybe I can change my approach for the next one… and, I’ll try again soon.

What we cannot change is the outside circumstance; the company’s decision to go with another candidate.

What we can change: How we think about or interpret the circumstance.

Why does this matter?

Cognitive Distortion is a thought pattern we can get stuck in, and while you may be thinking to yourself; “Well, who cares? They are my thoughts, what harm are they doing?”

While these thoughts aren’t directly harming others, they could be denying you the vital tools you need for communication and building rapport with others. These types of thought patterns can also lead to possible depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues in some.

One of my first steps during my journey with a client is to try to identify thought distortions, if there are any. In any number of frustrating situations it can feel as though the way we are seeing things, and perceiving them, is reality. When you talk about the situation, you sound rational and completely accurate. The problem lies in the fact that we cannot control the outside world, we can only control how we think about it and how we react to it.

So, venting about the way the interview went may make you feel better in the short term, but at Jill Harmon LCSW PC; we are in for the long haul. We don’t want a quick fix for you… (Even though quick fixes are amazing in some circumstances!) We want to help you through each step and give you the tools to get through every moment, not just one.

Our goal is to identify these distortions, and find out what we can do about them. This will lead to more success in your personal and professional life and while I cannot technically “guarantee” that… I can kind of guarantee it.

Nine of the most common Thought Distortions.

Above is a reference chart for common thought distortions

Above is a reference chart for common thought distortions

All or Nothing thinking:

This is the tendency to see things in black and white categories with no consideration for grey. You might observe the whole world in a positive or negative extreme, this includes yourself and others.

Overgeneralization:

You use your own experiences to categorize people, places, or entities. ex, “all women are unfaithful”, or “all men are mean”.

Fortune Telling

You regularly anticipate or expect that things will turn out badly and are convinced that your predictions are already an established fact.

Mental Filtering

You see only one side of the situation without regard for what the other side’s story is.

Unreal Ideal

Keeping up with the Jones’, modern style. This is when you take a peak on Facebook and see that an old friend from college friended you. As you look at her profile you see that she happily married, with three children (who seem to always be smiling), a large colonial home in the country somewhere, with a job that she just LOVES to go to every day. In other words: The highlight reel. It’s impossible to compete with.

Catastrophizing

Otherwise known as magnification, this is a way of exaggerating the importance of things or blowing things way out of proportion. A small example would be, “There’s a lot of traffic on my way to work… I’m never going to get there.”

Mind Reading

Prediction: I know what you’re thinking

Reality: You really don’t.

This is one of the most common areas of miscommunication.

Personalization

Making it about you, when it’s not really about you. This is when you and your partner show up late to a dinner event and when you finally arrive everyone is really quiet and no one seems to be having a good time. You think to yourself, “Ugh, they’re all mad at us because we’re late, and we’ve ruined their good time.” When in reality there could be a number of factors that are causing the dull dinner party.

Labeling

As a therapist, I see labeling as one of the most common Cognitive Thought Distortions and it might just be one of the toughest to break.

You failed an exam, you are not stupid.

You dropped something important at work, but you aren’t clumsy.

Your boss was in an awful mood, but he isn’t a jerk.

Identify, Halt, Replace.

Our goal, at Jill Harmon LCSW PC, is to help you identify these thought distortions, halt them where they start, and give you the tools to replace these distortions with more positive and productive thoughts.

It is the start of taking back control of circumstances that might seem out of hand right now. It is one of the first steps in your journey on becoming your best self.