Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Have you ever met someone who constantly thought they were worse than they really were, that every article of clothing looked horrible on them, that they’d never move up at a job they were good at? Perhaps you are that person. Generally, when people are thinking something that doesn’t make sense they are having a cognitive distortion, which simply means they are thinking irrationally. Perhaps those of you who said “that isn’t me” may realize there are a few of these you do too.
Fortune-Telling: This is assuming you know the future, either because of what happened in the past or because of a negative world view.
Example: “My mom hasn’t been helpful in the past, so she won’t be now.”
Mind-Reading: Assuming you know something someone else is thinking/feeling.
“My daughter thinks I’m an idiot, and I have to work extra hard to prove her wrong.”
Magnification/Minimization: Giving something more or less weight depending on if they confirm your worldview/view of yourself.
“It doesn’t really matter that I’m in calculus if I got a C on that test.”
“I know I took first, but she was actually better.”
All-or-Nothing Thinking: This is when things aren’t seen in stages of greys, but in absolutes.
“If I’m not going to ace this test, why even bother studying?”
Catastrophizing: Taking a basic premise and making it extreme.
“If I miss this date night my girlfriend will leave me. If my girlfriend leaves me I’ll never find another girlfriend. If I never find another girlfriend I will die alone, without even kids to take care of me.”
Should Speaking: When you use the word “should” to describe what you think is best for you or other people to do. This may not seem like a problem until you realize the unmet expectations can leave you mad at others and yourself.
“I should really become a PTA mom.”
“He really should cut his hair.”
Emotional Reasoning: Assuming because someone feels a certain way it must be the truth.
“I feel so stupid when I fail tests, I must be stupid.”
Overgeneralization: Taking an isolated incident and thinking things always will be that way.
“My boyfriends will always dump me.”
Personalization/Blame: Making events that aren’t necessarily about you into your fault or make events you had a part in all someone else’s fault.
“My mom was crying when I went to visit her; I wonder what I did.”
“My mom always cries when I come—she’s so sensitive!”
Fallacy of Change/Reward: If I do things just right people will do what I want and situations will work out.
“If I keep yelling at my wife for not doing the dishes, eventually she will do the dishes.”
“I walked my neighbor’s dog today, so God will definitely make my wife and kids leave me alone during the football game.”
There are other cognitive distortions out there, and some have been paired together for this list. A good way to combat such things is to let others see this list, then when you’re struggling ask them if you are doing these things. However—you have to be open to their feedback, and they have to be honest with you. This advice is generally best given by a therapist, but sometimes friends will agree to point it out to each other.
The first step is realizing that you are having a cognitive distortion. Thinking your thoughts are illogical is often enough to dispel them. If not, however, it can help to write down everything that makes it untrue, and if you don’t think anything does you can write down what would make other people think it’s untrue. Sometimes what we’re thinking may really happen, but there are still plenty of reasons why it may not. Often, our fear of what will happen isn’t even the fear of one sure thing, but how that thing will affect everything else. But our world does not have to crumble.