9 Cognitive Distortions & How To Fix Them

Introduction

Good day! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog today. Today we will be focusing on a mental health topic that can benefit everyone. There are several types of cognitive distortions that we can get stuck in no matter who we are. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I realized a few years ago when studying to be a therapist what was holding me back from living a peaceful life – it was some of my thinking patterns. Identifying them is the first step so you can then learn how to combat them with healthier thinking.

I will show you below what some of the most common types of faulty thinking patterns are and how you can stop them (and reverse them) for less stress and more peace.

#1 All or nothing thinking (Polarized thinking) – This is when people think in extremes. “If I don’t get this job, I’m a failure” or “If this person leaves, I’m not worth fighting for.” Telling yourself that you’re either successful or a failure or that people are either good or bad is damaging to your self-esteem. Reality exists between those two extremes.

A great way to restructure these types of thoughts is to take a step back and look at how the world runs. There are so many situations, paths, and opportunities that will come your way and there are many types of people. Be realistic and acknowledge your disappointment if something doesn’t work out. You could try thinking along the lines of “I’m disappointed that things didn’t work out with them/with that job, but now I’m free to search for what is meant for me.”

It takes time to get it right. There are so many good things out there waiting for us. A lost opportunity means you can explore new options.

#2 Catastrophizing – This type of thinking can create anxiety and stress. This often stems from childhood trauma, chronic pain, or other previous traumatic situations. People assume the worst will happen, because the worst has happened before. Sadly, they forget the other times things have worked out well for them and only focus on those bad memories. Try to think of times when something good happened or when a situation you hoped for *did* work out. CBT (Cognitive behaviour therapy) can help with overcoming these types of thoughts and feelings.

#3 Overgeneralizing – This is when people take one event’s result and apply it to the rest of their life. Such as “I got a low mark on this math test so I’m bad at math/ I suck at school”. Or you had a breakup so you think you’re just bad at relationships or not loveable.

Studies have shown overgeneralizing can stem from PTSD. It’s a defense mechanism where you expect the worst to happen in a certain area of your life if you haven’t had success in it prior.

Try to recognize when you’re telling yourself these things and reframe them when you can. Write down what your strengths are or consider some solutions that could help. Maybe in school you could hire a tutor or ask a teacher for help. Remind yourself what your good qualities are and why you deserve love like everyone else. “A bad test score doesn’t mean I’m bad at school. I just need a little help with this subject.” Or “I guess we weren’t compatible or it was wrong timing so there’s a better relationship out there for me.”

If you’re still having trouble, therapy can be beneficial to help you identify where you’re struggling and how to stop these types of thoughts from intruding in your life.

#4 Personalization: This is when you take things personally when you had no direct involvement or you take responsibility for something that is out of your control. Try to reframe the situation. Realizing that you did the best you could in a certain situation and not putting all the guilt on yourself can help you look at it more objectively.

#5 Mind Reading: Assuming what other people are thinking can create a lot of unneeded stress. Some of us are pretty intuitive but even then we can’t know exactly what other’s thoughts are. In the end, it’s none of our business what other people are really thinking. Their thoughts are their own. A great way to combat that is to consider all the evidence for why you think someone might dislike you or isn’t prioritizing you – that includes all evidence rather than just what will confirm your suspicions.

#6 Mental Filtering/Discounting The Positive – This is when someone ignores all the positives in a situation and focuses only on the negative. “Man this year really sucked” when in fact a lot of nice and interesting things happened for them that year. Only focusing on the negative is false thinking and it increases feelings of depression and anxiety. This line of thinking is also dangerous because when you see your past, present, and future as hopeless, it can trigger suicidal thoughts.

It’s sad when people ignore all the good things going for them because they’re only focused on the negativity. This is where the pain really comes from – if you sit back and listen to depressing songs and think of all the things you lost or all the things that won’t ever work out for you, it’s easy to start thinking that there’s nothing else to look forward to. But there is so much to look forward to. In this situation, I would highly recommend therapy, because it can be hard to get out of this cycle on your own. Talking to someone else can help you see how much you have to offer the world and how much the world can still offer you.

#7 “Should” Statements: This is when people say things like “I shouldn’t have to feel this way” or “I should be doing this, but I just don’t have the time.” This type of thinking can lead to feelings of guilt or sadness. A lot of times these come from certain expectations from family, culture, or society. “I should have a house by now. I’m 30/40/50.” These do more harm than good, because they accomplish nothing other than make you feel lousy. Replacing should statements with empowering statements like “This is what I’ve accomplished so far” can remind you that you’re doing great with what you have and you can still achieve the things you want through a series of steps (If you do want those things). It’s better to focus on what you can do than what you haven’t done yet.

#8 Emotional Reasoning: This is when people believe the only truth is their emotions. If they’re feeling sad, it means life sucks. If they’re feeling stressed, it means they’ll never have peace.

While it’s important to validate your emotions (It’s okay not to be okay. Don’t tell yourself you “shouldn’t” have to feel sad or anxious; acknowledge how you’re feeling and remind yourself that a bad day doesn’t mean the rest of your life will be the same. Everything passes.) Try to take a step back and look at the reality of a situation. You can feel sad, but it doesn’t mean the outcome will be hopeless. It just means you’re having a bad day. And that’s okay.

#9 Labeling: This is when people label themselves or others in a de-humanizing way. “Drunk” “failure” “loser” “skank” “poor”, etc. People use these labels based on their own experiences and apply a few bad situations to the rest of their life or the lives of others. This obviously causes issues between people because no one wants to be labelled as something negative. It discounts all the good qualities in someone and passes them off as something not worth considering beyond the negative.

How To Overcome These Cognitive Distortions

I covered some of these briefly under each distortion, but I will now identify specific ways on how to overcome these negative thoughts about yourself, life, and/or others.

Identify the thought – When a thought or feeling is affecting your day and dampening your mood, you can identify what the thought actually is. What is it that you keep telling yourself? Write it down if it’s helpful.

Reframe the situation – Oftentimes those bad thoughts are black and white. Try thinking in shades of grey, think of an alternative explanation, use evidence to support or deny your thought, and try a more positive/productive alternative to expand your mind to other thoughts. An exercise you could try is to write down that thought on paper then write down a few alternative thoughts. You’ll often be able to see alternatives to the negative thought you had originally.

Do a cost-benefit analysis for your thoughts

Usually people have gained some benefit from certain negative thinking, so that’s why they keep doing it. “Anytime I’ve stressed about something, the worse did actually happen!”

Think of why you tell yourself these things. Do they help you gain a form of control over situations? Do they help you avoid taking responsibility in situations or put all the blame on other people? Do they stop you from taking new risks or starting new challenges? This is a good chance to write down why you might think the things that you do.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

This form of therapy is so helpful. If you’ve ever felt hopeless or stuck, this therapy is for you. A good therapist can help you work through helpful exercises in a supportive environment. You can try online therapy through a company like Better Help if you’re on a budget; certain areas also give free or sliding scale therapy if you have a lower income. If you’re a good self-learner, you could even buy a CBT work book (meant for therapists in training).

I was able to counsel myself while taking therapist training in school and it changed my life. I was depression-free for two years and even when it returned, it was short-lived because I knew how to take better care of myself. I know now it’s only a passing feeling if you have a relapse in depression. After you have therapy, you often bounce back quicker if future depressive episodes come because you have a solid foundation to work with. When you have tools to help you recognize negative thinking and restructure them to be more productive for you, it creates a sense of peace and contentment.

I hope you found this helpful! Thank you so much for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day.

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22 comments

  1. How do you come up with ideas for your blogs? Interesting diversity of topics. If I could find a day job writing for blogs, I would give up my in person teaching in a NY minute!

  2. Thank you for posting this, I love how you included ways to combat these thinking patterns, too. ❀️ I struggled with some of them, and it can really bring extra stress and anxiety. This was super helpful!! πŸ™‚

    • That’s very true. :3 I’m glad you found these tips helpful. They work so well. I hope they help you alot. This cab rewire your brain. I was doing well for years, but lately it’s kind of caught up with me so I’ll get into these again..

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