What are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions
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In a previous post last year, I briefly wrote about three cognitive distortions: self blame, catastrophizing and ruminating. Here is the link in case you want to read about that: https://simplyywell.ca/2021/06/01/my-anxiety-is-dictating-my-life/. However, I didn’t do the topic of cognitive distortions justice as some of my readers requested another read on the topic.

So what exactly are cognitive distortions?

When people develop patterns of negative irrational thoughts, we refer to them as cognitive distortions. This can also be known as distorted thinking. Our brains are biologically wired to protect us from danger. However, sometimes you may want to think deeper in to what the brain is telling you.

It is very easy to create connections in the brain. This means it is easy to create connections between two events or thoughts when there may actually be no ties between them – sending us down a loop of distorted thoughts.

Aaron Beck was one of the first psychiatrists to examine this. He assessed the way his patients spoke about various obstacles they faced. He noticed that many people tend to warp their own reality and fall in to these patterns of distorted thinking.

For example, a student gets a D on a paper and overgeneralizes that a bad grade equates to failing everything else in life. This distortion specifically is called overgeneralization. A healthy thought would be to understand that bad grades happen sometimes and that does not mean that every grade after that one would subsequently be bad. Instead, someone who overgeneralizes automatically creates negative connections.

Cognitive distortions, such as overgeneralization, can truly distort someones reality far from what is real. It can take hours of cognitive behavioural therapy or other counselling methods to help someone create positive associations between thoughts again.

Another type of cognitive distortions are “should” statements. This is a popular one. For example, someone might tell themselves “I should call my friends/family more” or “I should workout more”. However, these statements can lead to negative feelings if they are not achieved. “Should” statements can be rephrased instead to be “I would like to call my friends/family more”, or “I would like to workout more”. By phrasing statements this way, they become more of a goal rather than something one should do which may not be achievable at times.

The list of unhelpful thinking styles doesn’t just end here, and is much longer than this. I hope this post was insightful, I intended to keep it short to mainly describe what cognitive distortions are.

I want to remind my readers that I am not by any means a medical professional. Even though I have an educational background in Psychology, and the information on my website is thoroughly researched and sourced scientifically, I still urge you to read more about topics yourself. If you would like to be directed to any resources, please reach out!

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