8 Common Cognitive Distortions to Be Wary of

8 Common Cognitive Distortions to Be Wary of

A cognitive distortion is an exaggerated or irrational thought pattern that leads to negative thinking. They are not based on facts and cause us to perceive reality inaccurately leading to feelings of guilt, misery, failure etc.  They affect our relationships and well-being. Swami Chinmayananda extolled, ‘The condition and nature of a mind certainly depends upon the quality and texture of its thoughts’.

Watch your thoughts to see if you are practising one of them. Become aware of these patterns and stop them in their tracks.

  1. Overgeneralisations:  Words like ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’ are frequent in your train of thought. If you think about it consciously, you’ll see that it’s not true—there will usually be exceptions to the case. For example, your parents refuse permission for an overnight outing. You leave the room thinking they ‘never’ understand you and ‘always ruin’ your fun. 

  2. All-or-Nothing Thinking: We think about ourselves and the world in an ‘all-or-nothing’ way, leading to extremely unrealistic standards for ourselves and others. There is only black or white, no grey areas. For example, your friend was a saint until she went for a movie with another group of friends without you. Now you can’t stand her.

  3. Filtering: We tend to filter all the positives in a situation and, instead, dwell on its negatives. Even if there are more positive aspects than negative in a situation or person, we focus on the negatives exclusively. For example, your teacher praises you for doing well in your exam and gives one suggestion for improvement. You then focus on that suggestion and consider yourself a failure.

  4. Mind-Reading: We interpret an event or situation negatively without evidence supporting such a conclusion and react to our assumption. We jump to conclusions often in response to a persistent thought or concern. Example: Since your friend didn’t sit with you, you assume she is upset with you when in reality, she was feeling down and wanted to be alone.

  5. Personalisation: We take things personally, believing we’re responsible for events that, in reality, are completely or partially out of our control. This results in feeling guilty or assigning blame without considering other factors. For example, you encourage your brother to go for the hike and you feel responsible for him falling and breaking his leg.

  6. Catastrophising: We jump to the worst possible conclusion in every scenario, no matter how improbable it is. It usually consists of ‘what if’ questions. Example: What if my alarm does not ring and I am late for my exam tomorrow? Or your team loses because of your mistake and you now think you are a terrible teammate.

  7. Tyranny of the ‘Shoulds’: ‘Should’ statements are ironclad rules we set for ourselves and others without considering other aspects. Example: You believe you should not eat junk food and if you do, you feel guilty. You believe everyone should be on time and get extremely upset if someone is late without considering the reason.

  8. Blaming: This is when we make others responsible for how we feel. Even when others engage in hurtful behaviours, remember, we’re still in control of how we feel in most situations. Example:You have changed your hairstyle and your parents don’t notice. You end up telling them, ‘You didn’t even notice. You make me feel insignificant and ugly’.

Chinmaya Udghosh