Faulty thinking can take the joy out of living. People’s minds can play tricks on them, leading them to view the world as if through dark sunglasses. Aaron Beck and David Burns referred to these warped thought patterns as cognitive distortions. They suggested that cognitive distortions might contribute to and perpetuate anxiety and depression. Cognitive distortions color a person's perception of reality, leading them to experience the world in a negative way. Through their faulty thinking, people become convinced that the way they see the world is true, when it is not. The impact of distorted thinking is usually magnified by the negative emotions that accompany these thoughts.
1. Jumping to conclusions
A person makes assumptions that they know what someone is thinking or how something will turn out. These assumptions are usually negative and rarely give others the benefit of the doubt. The person sees their assumptions as facts and rarely checks with or believes the other person.
This distortion occurs when a person takes what others do or say, to mean something personal about themselves. They blame themselves or feel guilt for things that are outside of their control.
This distortion occurs when people refuse to accept responsibility for their own feelings, thoughts or behavior. They throw the blame at others, saying things like, “If you had not made me mad, I would not have lost my temper.”
This distortion allows only the negative information to reach a person's attention. The positive information is deflected or ignored. A person may be so affected by a single negative detail, that they completely miss any positives.
5. Black and white thinking
Things are either all good or all bad. With this type of distortion if a person is not perfect, they feel like a failure. There is no allowance for the complexity of situations or individuals.
This distortion magnifies problems to epic proportion, while at the same time minimizing coping abilities and resilience. People scare themselves by thinking of and dwelling on all the “what ifs." A small mistake is obsessed upon until it seems overwhelming.
This distortion manifests as an inflexible list of rules for the person and others. Anger and guilt result when the person feels the rules have been broken. Harsh criticism of self and others is the outcome.
8. Right fighting
A person must be right at all costs. They constantly feel that they must prove that their actions and opinions are correct. Being right is more important than relationships or the feelings of loved ones.
This distortion leads people to expect that, if something bad happens, it will continue to happen. There is a hopeless expectation of an unending pattern of defeat.
10. Emotional Reasoning
Unhealthy emotions are assumed to represent reality. If a person feels like a failure, they think they are a failure. They do not feel like getting out of bed, so they stay in bed.
11. Myth of Change
People expect that others will change to suit them, with enough convincing. They want others to change in order for them to feel comfortable or to make them happy.
A person identifies with their faults or mistakes. They have thoughts such as, “I am stupid” or “I am a failure”, rather than “that was not my best performance” or “I messed that up.”
Most people experience cognitive distortions from time to time. The misery an individual is experiencing is probably proportional to the extent of their faulty thinking habits. Therapy is often focused on changing habitual thought patterns so that they run along more positive, life enhancing tracks.