Do you trust your brain? Are there occasions when you question if what you are thinking is right? Is there a better way to look at things? Why do I feel about things this way? What affects my thoughts? How do my current circumstances influence the way I look at things?

We know that our brains learn and create connections, so what we learn can stay in our brain as memory and, when needed, be activated. What if you learn the wrong thing? We then create faulty connections that will affect the way we think, our perspective, our opinions, and our actions.

The current research on how the brain can change and how it can be recreated has made me examine the way I think and the thoughts that I have in my brain. It is because of these questions that lead me to cognitive distortions.

What are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions are biased perspectives of ourselves and the world we live in. They are unreasonable thoughts and beliefs that we unconsciously reinforce over time.

These systems and patterns of thought are not prominent, making it difficult to identify them when they have become part of our daily routine of thinking. And that is the challenge. We need to recognise and identify them so we can change them. Build the connections to the right way of thinking and strengthen them; weaken and disconnect the connections for the wrong kind of thinking.

All cognitive distortions are:

  • Tendencies or patterns of thinking or believing
  • Are false or inaccurate
  • Potential to cause psychological damage

16 Most Common Cognitive Distortions

Psychologist Aaron Beck first presented the theory behind cognitive distortions, Beck included five cognitive distortions in his original list published in 1963 and added an additional two in Cognitive Therapy of Depression which was published in 1979.

Beck developed the basis for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) when he observed that many of his patients struggling with depression were operating on false assumptions and distorted thinking, so he hypothesised that if he could change their thinking, he could change the signs and symptoms of depression.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is founded on the idea that our thought patterns and deeply held beliefs about us and the world direct our experiences. This can lead to mental health disorders when they are distorted but can be modified or changed to eliminate negative symptoms.

Dr David Burns was an early student of Aaron Beck and is another expert on depression and treatment research. He named and gave examples of the distortions in the 1980s.

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarised Thinking

It is looking at things as either Black and White and do not allow for the grey areas. They are either perfect or a failure, no in-between, no middle ground, no neutrality. You only think and see things in the extremes.

  1. Over generalisation

It is judging a book by its cover. It is the first impression is true and final. Once it happens, it will keep happening. You go through unpleasant events and see life resulting in a lifetime of loss and defeat.

  1. Disqualifying the Positive

You recognise the positive experience, but instead of accepting the experience as favourable, you reject them. If somebody gives a positive comment, instead of saying “Thank you”, you may say that they are just saying that because it is the expected thing to do or to avoid confrontation.

  1. Mental Filter

It is pessimism and the thinking that everything that is, in reality, is an irony. You choose to see the negative and disregard the positive aspects.

This thinking distortion is particularly harmful because it promotes negative brain connections despite supportive, positive proof.

  1. Magnification (Catastrophising) or Minimisation

You always thinking that something terrible will happen no matter what you do, regardless of how well prepared you are. You expect catastrophe to happen regardless. It is endless.” What if?”

  1. Jumping to ConclusionsMind Reading

You assume that you know and understand what other people are thinking, and you jump to your own conclusion.

  1. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling

You make conclusions and predict the future based on what is happening now.

  1. Emotional Reasoning

“I feel it; therefore, it must be true.” I am jealous and now think your spouse is cheating on you, but your jealousy does not make your husband is cheating true.

  1. Personalisation

Taking things personally, blaming yourself, seeing yourself as the black sheep, and the reason for things going wrong.

  1. Should Statements

“Should” do, “ought” to do, “must” do applied to ourselves and others. When you say these words, you are imposing a set of expectations on yourself and others. If not met, will lead to frustration, anger, and resentment.

  1. Labelling and Mislabelling

You judge the value of someone, or something based on a single experience with that someone or something. You categorise someone or something based on one event, which is unfair, inaccurate, and may lead to missing out on someone or something that may be great.

  1. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy can be a) that we have no control over our lives. We are helpless victims of fate, or b) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, making us solely responsible for everything.

  1. Fallacy of Fairness

You believe that this world is fair and judge yourself and experiences through the ruler of fairness. Using the barometer of justice will only lead to frustration, anger, resentment, and hopelessness because of the unrealistic expectation of fairness.

  1. Fallacy of Change

You believe that if you change people, you will be happy and prosperous.

  1. Always Being Right

You believe that you are always right; you can never be wrong.

16. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

The belief that if you do good and work hard, you will be rewarded.

Now You Know, So What?

Knowing is the beginning. Now that you know all of these cognitive distortions and recognise that they are universal and potentially damaging. Once identified, we can work on minimising and overcoming these cognitive distortions from the way we think.

Once we find ourselves in one of these cognitive distortions, we can challenge the distortion and deal with them positively and effectively. We make corrections early so they will not root and create permanent and robust brain connections.

Early correction of these cognitive distortions would also prevent unrealistic expectations, unnecessary frustration, anger, resentment, and hopelessness.

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