Our minds are always trying to protect us from danger, so much so that our thoughts can spiral into showing us a worst-case scenario, even when we are not faced with an active threat. Meaning, our minds can present us with fallacies in reaction to stressful situations. These fallacies are called Cognitive Distortions, which are thoughts that are untrue, unhelpful, and promote negative viewpoints of the world around us.
It is important to know how to recognize cognitive distortions because how we think impacts how we feel, and how we behave. All people experience cognitive distortions at some point, however, they can signal a symptom of Anxiety if they become too frequent, or burdensome to the point of believing they hold merit.
Therapists can help people combat cognitive distortions by using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - a method of teaching individuals how to identify negative thoughts that come from events and feelings, to further reframe the thoughts (or think about them in a different, more positive way). Below are just some common Cognitive Distortions with examples of thoughts and reframes:
- Emotional Reasoning
Thinking of your initial emotional reaction as the reality of the situation / “I feel this way, so, it must be true.”
“I feel angry, so they must be treating me unfairly.”
“I’m feeling angry because I received some bad news earlier today but this person has done nothing wrong.”
- All or Nothing Thinking:
Thinking in absolutes by using language such as “always”, “never” or “either/or” terms. Viewing the world in a black & white manner, that leaves no room for alternative interpretation.
“I’m having trouble finishing this task, so I can’t do anything right.”
“I’m feeling discouraged but I have been, and am capable of completing hard things.”
- Mind Reading
Thinking that you know what another person is thinking/interpreting thoughts and beliefs without enough evidence.
“They didn’t text me back, so they must not want to hang out with me.”
“I’m feeling worried about not being responded to but they may be busy right now, and will text me back later.”
Thinking of the most disastrous possibility imaginable.
“If I fail this exam I will never go to college and will never have a career.”
“I’m feeling nervous about this exam but one exam will not determine my entire future.”
Thinking that you can make a sweeping judgment, rather than viewing a behavior separately.
“I forgot to make the reservation, I am so stupid.”
“I’m feeling embarrassed because I made a mistake but next time I will be more attentive.”
It can be really difficult to catch these cognitive distortions in the moment but with practice and support with identifying events, emotions, thoughts and behaviors- they can become easier to reframe, resulting in more harmonious reactions to everyday stressors. When we feel equipped to better understand, and question our thoughts, we can validate our experiences and emotions to the fullest extent.