Cognitive distortions, a concept from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), refer to biased ways of thinking about oneself and the world around us. The model essentially states that there are specific (and common) ways people distort their thinking. These irrational thoughts and beliefs (i.e., distortions) can lead to problematic emotional states and behavior, like anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and relationship conflicts. That’s why you want to be aware of them, so that you can shift your thinking to more rational and objective thoughts whenever possible. More rational thinking tends to lead to more positive emotional and behavioral experiences.
Below is a list of 10 common cognitive distortions, from Dr. David Burns, author of the best seller “The Feeling Good Handbook.” All human beings use these cognitive distortions to greater and lesser degrees. See which ones apply to you.
1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING (also known as POLARIZED THINKING): You see things in black and white categories. If your performance fails short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. There's no middle ground, no room for mistakes.
2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You reach a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. You exaggerate the frequency of problems and use negative global labels.
3. FILTERING: You focus on the negative details while ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation.
4. CATASTROPHIZING: You expect, even visualize disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and think, "What if tragedy strikes?" You inappropriately exaggerate the importance of things.
5. MAGNIFYING: You exaggerate the degree or intensity of the problem. You turn up the volume on anything bad, making it loud, large, and overwhelming.
6. SHOULDS: You have a lot of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you, and you feel guilty when you violate the rules. You try to motivate yourself with "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts," as if you had to be punished before you could be expected to do anything. The emotional consequence is guilt.
7. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event or someone's reaction for which, in fact, you were not necessarily a consideration or an important factor. You assume that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking, and so on.
8. MIND READING: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don't bother to check this assumption out. Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you have certain knowledge of how people think and feel about you.
9. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."
10. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I am a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way you attach a negative label to him or her.
11. SELECTIVE ATTENTION & SELECTIVE MEMORY: When you pay attention to information that confirms your beliefs and ignore other information that may contradict your beliefs. Selective memory is when you only remember certain pieces of information that confirm what you believe.