Cognitive distortions are mental traps that make you feel bad

They’re the source of negative emotions that don’t follow any rational pattern: we’re talking about cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortions are those erroneous processes that can take over when interpreting information. In simple terms, they are no more than a poor interpretation of what’s going on around us, something that also generates negative emotions within us.

Although all of us may experience some kind of cognitive distortion, whether big or small, at some point, people who live with depression tend to suffer from these biases more frequently. Learning to detect and analyze them can be very helpful to avoid the negative emotions that they generate. In this article, we’ll talk about the most common cognitive distortions. Have you ever experienced one of them?

1. Polarized or Dichotomized Thinking (all or nothing). When experiencing this distortion, the person tends to interpret situations and people in absolute terms, without any middle ground in between. This is commonly known as seeing things as “black or white.” One example is: “Since my colleague didn’t like my work, no one will like it.”

2. Overgeneralization. This is the tendency to believe that because something occurred one time, it will happen may times. It consists in taking an isolated event and using it to make general conclusions about everything. For example, “My girlfriend of five years broke up with me. No one will ever love me again.”

3. Mental Filter. People who experiences this distortion only focuses on negative and disturbing aspects of an experience, overlooking any positive aspects. In this way, the good things are forgotten and bad things take over. One example could be “My life is awful because I don’t have a girlfriend/boyfriend” (forgetting that they do have, for example, many friends, health and a good job).

4. Reading Minds. The person believes they know the intentions, attitudes and thoughts of others, which, at the same time are usually negative and cause hurt feelings. One example is “On the inside they’re laughing me, they think I’m a joke”. This same distortion can apply to situations, when the person “predicts” outcomes of events before they occur (“The party is going to be boring”).

5. Magnifying and Minimizing.  As the name indicates, this consists in magnifying one’s own mistakes and the success of others and minimizing one’s own achievements and the mistakes of others. Within this distortion fall catastrophizing, where the person tends to imagine the worst possible scenario with regards to any situation and negative thinking, which is the tendency of magnifying all of the negative aspects of an experience. For example, “It doesn’t matter what I’ve been able to achieve over the years, this mistake that I’ve just made is so big that it ruins everything.”

6. Emotional Reasoning. Through this distortion, the person formulates arguments based on how they feel instead of objective reality: “I’m useless and worthless, I’ll never get a decent job.”

7. Shoulds. The person tends to concentrate on what they consider that they “should” do instead of seeing things for what they are. In this way, they guide themselves by strict, rigid rules that they must always apply, regardless of the context. One example could be “I should have been more attentive and if I had been my husband would still be with me.”

8. Labeling. Related to overgeneralization and emotional reasoning, labeling consists in using pejorative terms to describe oneself instead of using more objective descriptions (“I’m stupid” instead of “I made a mistake and that happens to everyone”).

9. Blaming. When this distortion is in control, the person tends to blame themselves for things that they are not responsible for, or, on the contrary, blame others for things that only they are responsible for.

10. Fallacies. Here we distinguish between the fallacy of control (presupposing that it’s necessary to have control and responsibility for everything that happens around you), fallacy of justice (the person claims as unjust anything that doesn’t coincide with their needs or beliefs), fallacy of change (believing that one’s own happiness depends on the actions of others), fallacy of reason (believing that one possesses the absolute truth) and the divine fallacy (expecting problems to get better on their own).

Depression, Wellbeing, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Non-pharmacological treatments, Health professionals, Psychological aspects

Author: Purificación Salgado, Journalist

Last Modification: February 20, 2017

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