Cognitive Distortions: Part 1

Written by Neisha Potter on January 28, 2020

Have you ever had a friend who you have not talked to in a while, perhaps you have called your friend, but s/he has not called you back? After days, perhaps weeks, of not connecting or receiving a returned phone call, you start to feel as though that friend is mad at you or that perhaps you have done something wrong?

Thinking errors are defined by irrational or disproportionate interpretations of experiences that negatively influence our perceptions. Negative self-talk may impact your self-esteem, self-image, cause depression, anxiety, and/or self-loathing. Your brain is arguably the most important organ in the body, responsible for everything from the way you coordinate movement to the way you think. Therefore, your mental health is just as important to treat as any other medical concerns because your mental health can directly impact your physical health, such as high blood pressure, nausea, and fatigue. It is important to rule out physical conditions when evaluating psychological well-being, moreover, it is helpful to remember that emotional or mental distress may negatively influence your physical health as well.

Your mind and your body are linked, allowing the mind and the body to work together to coordinate different functions, such as speaking and nonverbal communication. Since they are intimately connected with one another, it comes as no surprise that the body influences the mind and the mind influences the body. When you improve your mental health, you may inevitably improve your overall health.

Thinking errors can be referred to as cognitive distortions or as Aaron T. Beck labeled as negative schemas. These flaws in thinking patterns often lead to depression, anxiety, poor self-image, or self-loathing. Let’s spend some time exploring ten common thinking errors, known as cognitive distortions:

Mental filtering means filtering out the positives of a situation and applying a negative filter to experiences. This thinking error rules out the positive experiences and highlights the negative experiences. In order to overcome this, practice mindfulness by identifying positive aspects of a situation, every situation has one.

Jumping to conclusions is a cognitive distortion by which a person makes irrational assumptions about circumstances without supporting evidence that the irrational thought it true. Similar to the example regarding a friend who has not returned your call, and suddenly you make the assumption that you have done something wrong, yet you do not know what that could be because you have no supporting evidence of a violation.

Personalization involves thinking errors that cause you to become the victim. Personalization appoints blame and responsibility for outcomes, even when you are not responsible for the circumstances. Taking responsibility is indeed admirable, however, inappropriately assuming blame is unhealthy and a heavy weight to bear. Ask yourself what part you played, if any, and if there is anything you could do differently next time.

Black and White thinking is a cognitive distortion that includes all-or-nothing thinking. This thinking leaves zero room for a middle ground, therefore, things are right or wrong, good or bad, thus disallowing yourself to change your viewpoint. Challenge yourself to see things from a different point of view and a different perspective. This allows you to view circumstances objectively in an unbiased manner.

Catastrophizing is caused by believing that the worst possible outcome will come true. This thinking error creates mountains out of molehills. To overcome this cognitive distortion, explore the best possible outcome of the situation, the worst possible outcome, and the likely outcome. Use supporting evidence to establish your conclusion. Regardless of your decision, remain solution-focused to solve the problem you are facing.

Mindful discipline can help facilitate changes in your thinking patterns. These patterns took time and practice, therefore, reversing them will take time and practice. Follow up with this article next month to explore the other five cognitive distortions and how to overcome them.

Quote: Your body hears everything that your mind says – Naomi Judd

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Neisha Potter
Neisha Potter is a happily married mother of four children with extraordinary compassion. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Florida, with well-rounded professional experience including the areas of physical and mental disabilities, substance abuse recovery, long term care, mental health and now operates her own private practice, Fern Ridge Counseling, LLC.