What Are Cognitive Distortions and How To Stop Them

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As you may know, I’ve been dealing with depression for quite sometime. But just like starting to work out, you always want to change up your routine or learn more to better apply yourself. I feel like I’ve hit a hiatus or just feeling kind of lost with my mental health and i’m finding that I’m reverting back to some bad habits or just more like noticing that I’m having diffuclty getting things done. So i thought writing about it might help me out. So here are the main cognitive distortions and what to do about them.

What are Cognitive Distortions?

I think the best way to think of them are like drunk goggles, but instead of being funny like your drunk, they’re usually negative lenses that make you feel not good about yourself. lol so very not fun. But the good thing is since they are similar to glasses we are able to take them off and really understand what’s going on in our heads.

The difficult part comes with adjusting these lenses. Our distortions are usually crafted from years and years of life experience and/or past traumas that have made us believe that what we see (believe) to be reality. Rather than our brain mentally filtering things out to be shown as what our core beliefs are.

So in order to readjust those lenses we’d need just as much work

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Ten Most Common Cognitive Distortions

I thought I originally learned about cognitive distortions in the book “Mind Over Mood” but I think that book mostly covers what you should do when you notice these thoughts, hence the thought record. So that’s the action based approach which is probably why I’m such a big advocate for this book.

But I now realize, that if you’re new to mental health and all these terminology just jumping into action with out first learning why you’re doing it in the first place will indefinitely lead to burn out. So our favourite app Pacifica (now called “Sanvello”) introduces you to the entire approach of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) without getting too overwhelming. It also helps you really understand what each of these cognitive distortions means. So if you’re looking to learn more about what you can do definitely check that app out.

Nonetheless, let’s get into explaining each distortion and what to do about it.

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“If something goes wrong, it’ll be a disaster”

My go-to thought of preparing for the worst-case scenario. I always thought that this would lead to stoicism thinking approach to life. But when you’re depressed or anxious sometimes your emotional side weighs heavier than logical reasoning. And trust I understand that it’s easy to explain how to stop it when you’re level. But when you’re in the moment it becomes really difficult. So what I try to remind myself is to ask questions like:

What would you tell your best friend that is going through the same situation?

Catastrophizing is super easy and you can really begin to reason everything your thinking when you’re in the moment because your brain is hard-wired to believe it to be true. So trying to take a step back as if you were trying to comfort a friend helps you separate yourself from these core beliefs we cling on to so hard.

How Can I stop Catastrophizing Everything?

Some more steps you can take to fix your glasses and adjust your catastrophizing lenses are:

  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
    • Write down the emotions you’re feeling and rate them from 0 to 100%
    • Understand the thought. What happened to make you feel this way? What is this catastrophic thought you’re thinking about?
      • Evidence to support it. What’s the likely hood?
      • Evidence against it. What’s the likely hood?
    • What would be a more balanced thought taking both of these perspectives into account?
    • My go-to book for CBT is: Mind over Mood
  • What would you tell your friend that is worrying about a catastrophic event that you’re thinking about?
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All or Nothing/Black and White Thinking

“I’m not going to do well on this test, I might as well not do it.”

I can’t do anything right, I’m a failure at life. This is the largest, most common thought that goes on in my head. While it’s a combination of cognitive distortions. We’ll start here with black and white thinking. You’ll usually be using words like:

  • always
  • never
  • perfect
  • impossible
  • disaster
  • furious
  • ruined
  • failure
  • catastrophe

So this cognitive distortion are like polarized lenses and pretty much makes you think in an all-or-nothing attitude. I think a lot of creative people think this way, and it gets extremely overwhelming and inhibiting.

I won’t do anything unless is perfect, otherwise, it’s completely ruined and I have to throw the whole thing in the trash… Just like this blog.

Clearly, I haven’t thrown this in the trash yet because it’s my exercise in just creating to create. It’s my form of making me learn to not be all-or-nothing thinking and trussttt it’s extremely difficult.

This distortion develops because we often have an extreme way of thinking. We’re either destined for success or doomed for failure.

How to Stop Black-and-White Thinking

  • Separate self-worth from what you’re doing.
    • Your job, tasks, or whatever you’re dealing with doesn’t define your self-worth. Who you are is much more than that.
  • CBT: What are the possible outcomes?
    • If there are only two options playing out in your head, try to explore more options. There are often multiple shades of “grey”.
  • What does each outcome mean, and what would you do about it?
    • Most often the probability of our worst-case scenario is very minimal. But even if it wasn’t, the actions required aren’t as serious as our brains play them out to be. What would you do next?
      • Let’s take your worst-case-scenario, if that were to happen what could you do to remedy the situation?
    • Deep down we’re problem solvers and we’ll always figure a way out.
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Negative filtering

“They’re not actually complimenting me. It’s just cause they pity me and hate what I’ve done.”

I couldn’t think of a good “explanation quote” for this one. But negative filtering is pretty common and this is like an extreme version to grasp what is going on in our heads. Also when you write it down, it makes you feel ridiculous which may be why it’s so hard for me to create an example. But if you can grasp what I’m trying to get at, you’ll know, the feelings are hella real.

Negative filtering is basically what it sounds like. Regardless of the evidence of positive information, all we see if the negative part of a specific situation. No matter what we try, our brain always seems to focus on the negative things and discounting any positive experience. Some examples are:

  • My boss complimented my work, but there’s no way they actually like.
  • Regardless of always being on time, the second you’re 5 minutes late, you’re extremely incompetent
  • Despite having a great average, you don’t do well on an assignment and now you’re a failure.

How to Stop Negative Filtering?

  • List out all these “Negative Filtered” Thoughts
    • CBT: Are there other possibilities to these thoughts? What is each probability?
  • Try to start accepting compliments.
    • Grey’s Anatomy: Instead of brushing off compliments, try saying “Thank You”
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Personalization & Blame

“Why haven’t they responded? I must have annoyed them and they don’t like me.”

OoOoOOoo. I’m sure there’s nuff people out there that have thought this. I always thought this to be such a “weak” way of thinking. Like how could anyone think like this… lololol was I wrong. Getting off my anti-depressants have made me extremely susceptible to the entire spectrum of depression, anxiety and everything else. So stop dissing.

Personalization is basically when your brain makes you assume the entire responsibility of events that happen outside of your control. So if the above example isn’t enough. It’s when you’re to blame for everything.

Although I only think that I’ve recently started to be plagued with personalization. The truth is I’ve always blamed myself for everything. Someone I cared about couldn’t get the succeed at their task at hand, I should’ve helped out more. Try to help someone out? Nice try, you f*cked up everything for them, should’ve never gotten involved cause you mess up everything.

Or it could sway the other way too: My job would be so much easier if my clients/partners weren’t so incompetent. Why are these people so unreasonable.

Basically there’s always a place to put the “blame” but honestly that’s not the nicest thing to do. Whether it’s on yourself or on someone else, that’s hella uncomfortable and it would be best if we didn’t have to do that from the get to. So….

How do we stop personalization or blaming others?

  • CBT: Understand the automatic thought. Write it down.
    • What’s the likely hood of this specific scenario?
    • What is the evidence for it?
    • What’s the evidence against it?
  • How would you comfort your friend going through this same thought?
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Mind Reading

“They think I’ve just ridiculed myself.”

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Labeling & Judging

“I’m a failure”

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Fortune Telling

“I know I’m going to mess this up”

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Emotional Reasoning

“I’m freaking the f*ck out, so this must be a stressful situation”

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Pressurized/Extreme Words

“I should’ve done this better”

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“I always freak out on flights”

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