Have thoughts like these ever crossed your mind?
"I got an A on that test? I must have just gotten lucky."
"I can't believe I made that mistake. Everyone must be making fun of me now."
"I'm the worst friend in the entire world."
These are all examples of cognitive distortions: your mind leads you to believe things about yourself or the world, when they're not true.
Most people experience cognitive distortions occasionally. But if they persist long-term, this type of thinking can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.
Being able to identify 7 common cognitive distortions can help you avoid getting stuck in negative thinking patterns.
1. Polarized Thinking
Looking at things in terms of black and white...
without considering the shades of gray in between.
Taking the results of one event and applying it to all future events.
You experience one negative relationship and decide you're terrible at relationships overall.
Overgeneralized thoughts often include words like always, never, everything, and nothing.
Filtering out positive aspects of a situation, and only focusing on the negatives.
You gave a presentation in class and it went pretty well. You stumbled a few times, and that is all you can think about. You feel like you failed.
Taking things personally even if they are not connected to you, like:
Blaming yourself for situations that are not your fault or are out of your control.
Assuming that you've been excluded or targeted, even though it's not true.
Your friend mentions they didn't enjoy the party you went to together the night before. You blame yourself since you think you're the reason they didn't enjoy it.
Taylor is meeting with their boss. The boss compliments them on several achievements, & points out one thing Taylor could improve. Taylor worries about the one thing for the rest of the day and feels like a terrible employee. What distortion is this?
5. Mind Reading
Jumping to conclusions about what another person is thinking, particularly assuming that they see you in a negative light.
Your partner doesn't smile at you, and you assume this means they're upset with you. In reality, they may have just been having a bad day.
Tending to always jump to the worst-case scenario.
When someone catastrophizes, they might end up in a spiral of "what if" questions.
Your paycheck doesn't arrive in the mail. You start to think: "What if it never comes?", "What if I can't pay rent on time?", "What if we get kicked out of our apartment?".
7. Emotional Reasoning
You feel guilty about a situation. Emotional reasoning leads you to think that you're a bad person.
Pam sees her friend, Ned, across the street and waves. Ned doesn't wave back. Pam thinks he must be mad at her. What cognitive distortion is this?
Now that you know about some common cognitive distortions, do your best to recognize them as they arise. The next steps are to learn to address and manage them.
Check out these Bytes that may help you take these next steps:
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This Byte has been authored by
Graduate Student in Education