What I am about to say may seem shocking, but I am just going to say it anyway.
Our brains don’t always tell us the TRUTH –
they often misperceive events and distort reality.
Thought distortions are, by definition, biased perspectives that we take on ourselves and the world around us. They are patterned, false or inaccurate, and they can cause psychological damage.
Why do our brains do this? The way brains are wired predispose them to making connections between thoughts and consequences, whether they are truly connected or not. This tendency to make connection when there is no true relationship results in a thought distortion.
Before we learn some of the common thought distortions, it is important to first acknowledge that most of our automatic negative thoughts are based on these distortions. Most of us have our own list of “favorites” amongst the common thought distortions. Unfortunately, use them to fuel recurrent-themed negative automatic thoughts in everyday life. But fear not! As you recall from my previous blog post about the Thought Model, the good news is that we can change our automatic thoughts! And, if our errored thinking is limited to a few themed distortions, our work is very clear cut.
So why are thought distortions worth mentioning? Thought distortions are shown to correlate positively to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Simply put, if cognitive distortions are present then we are predisposed to develop symptoms of mood disorders. On the contrary, if we are equipped with the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tools to ward off warped thought patterns, we can actually protect ourselves from the destructive effects of negative thinking.
A foundation of CBT is that our sense of “reality” is tied to the way we see ourselves, as well as the way we see ourselves through the eyes of our family and friends.
Put simply, “Our perception is our reality”
Therefore, any misperception can lead to an altered sense of reality and subsequent impairment in mental wellbeing. CBT provides tools to identify thought distortions, challenge these troubled thoughts, and replace them with alternative thoughts that will benefit us.
Psychiatrists Aaron Beck, MD and David Burns, MD have composed a “lineup” of the most common Thought Distortion that we use. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself saying “I do that all the time!” … which of course, is a distorted thought in and of itself
Top 10 Most Common Thought Distortions
· All-or-nothing thinking: It is either black or white and no in between. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see failure.
· Overgeneralization: You see one negative event as an infinite defeat- forever.
· Mental filter: You focus on one negative detail and dwell on it so that your vision of all reality becomes dark. A good analogy is a drop of food coloring that discolors the entire beaker of water.
· Disqualifying the positive: You ignore positive experiences by insisting they aren’t real for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
· Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no facts that support your conclusion.
· Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate your mistake or someone else's achievement.
· Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, so it is true."
· Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and should nots expecting this will motivate you. When you direct “should” statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
· Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing one single mistake, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a disaster."
· Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event that you were not primarily responsible.
So where do we go from here? How do we manage these distorted thoughts? CBT offers many tools to evaluate and offset thought distortions. With cognitive coaching, you can use these tools to practice self coaching on a daily basis. The goal of most cognitive coaches is to teach you how to become your own coach.
There are many tools, but the most widely utilized is The CBT Thought Record. A powerful tool to be used during self coaching. The thought record can guide you to realize how you are jumping to false conclusions.
· Explain the content of the circumstance.
· Identify your emotion and rate its strength.
· Discover the automatic thought that is driving your feeling.
· Create evidence for and against your automatic thought. You are looking for evidence to prove your thought wrong.
· Formulate an alternative thought that will replace your automatic thought.
· Rate the strength of your emotion after you have created your alternative thought.
Once you are able to anticipate these common offenders – and learn to use CBT to catch them and subsequently change your thoughts, you will be empowered to leave your old dragging feelings behind and dramatically improve the quality of your life. Positive and negative emotions create the human experience, in fact, we may feel 50% positive and 50% negative at any given time. CBT is a life hack to shift the percentage towards more positive emotions. If our perception is our reality, then a more positive perception makes for a more positive reality.
My goal as a Cognitive Behavioral Coach is to guide you step-by-step along the path of discovering this process for yourself. This journey will require commitment of time and emotions, but I guarantee that the more work you put into it, the more benefits you will reap. By the end of this journey, I will entrust you with the skills to become your own Cognitive Behavioral Coach, capable of controlling your emotions and enjoying the limitless possibilities will follow.