Thought Distortions: What Are They?

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Many, if not most of us, will experience thought distortions. Also known as cognitive distortions. They are thought patterns which distort the way we think or perceive the world around us. At their worst, thought distortions can eliminate the positive by giving us an overwhelmingly negative world view. They can also inhibit our progress or hold us back by sapping our motivation. Or convincing us that we will fail, are not good enough or that we shouldn’t try. There are various types of thought distortions and learning more about them and how to identify them is the first step on a journey to overcoming them.

For How to Successfully Challenge Negative Thoughts read here.

Different Thought Distortions

It’s hard to create a complete list of thought distortions; either chosen 6 which I’m more familiar with. And some may be known by different names or identified slightly differently. However, hopefully the descriptions will help you identify them. And possibly some may resonate with you. We may discover that we tend towards certain thought distortions more than others. Have a read through and think whether any of them feel relevant to you. Once we know them and can identify them. We can practise pressing pause on them when they happen. Reminding ourselves that they are distortions and that doesn’t make them true. Neither do we have to accept them. We may wish to try and rebut them too.

For A Guide to Gaining a Positive Perspective read here.

#1 Catastrophizing

This one may be familiar to you if you experience high levels of anxiety, panic or stress. Although we won’t all experience it. Ever felt like something is the end of the world? That if x happens then y and z will. If that’s the case it’s easy to assume that there’s no point in trying if the worst will happen. In this thought distortion we see the catastrophe looming large as a result of something we did or didn’t do. Sometimes these things are in our control and sometimes they aren’t. We can try and stop catastrophizing by asking ourselves how likely the worst case scenario is to happen. Often it’s high likely and we can’t think of many occasions if any it has happened.

#2 Over/Generalizing

With this thought distortion, we take the end result of one situation. And automatically assume that this is the default ending for all such experiences. Didn’t enjoy a party? We won’t enjoy any. We failed last time we tried something new. Therefore, we always will. This thought process holds us back and can cut us off from people, places and experiences that we may grow to love. Whilst also stopping us from progressing and moving forward.

#3 Mind Reading

Many of us may be acutely attuned to those around us. So much so that we can often guess what they are thinking, how they may react or what they may do next. However, in mind reading we don’t give people the opportunity to do any of those things. Instead we assume that we know by mind reading. Not only can this stop us taking next steps in relationships or asking for something we want. Assuming the answer will be know. But we also don’t give people the benefit of the doubt or the opportunity to change.

#4 Mental Filtering

This thought distortion views the world through a negative lens. Automatically discounting the positive or not even acknowledging it. Those who view the world in this way are likely to experience lower moods. With the world and the people in it possibly seemingly like an unbearable place to be. Where nothing goes right or your way. When we realise that a negativity bias is coming into play. We can ask ourselves for evidence of when things did go right or didn’t turn out as badly as we thought. For experiences when we enjoyed ourselves or met with success. Or ask ourselves what might happen if things went right or turned out well? Trying to always keep in mind the possibility for the positive.

#5 The Dreaded “Should”

Have you noticed that ‘should’ has somehow crept into your vocabulary? Do you feel the pressure and the weight of the word? Should may indicate internalized pressure but also the possibility of external pressure too. Whether this is coming from wider society or people we know such as family, friends, teachers, mentor or other peers. The use of the word should can create a pressure cooker of expectation which can be hard to manage. And leave us feeling trapped in a life which doesn’t always suit us or accurately represent us or how we wish to live. Try replacing should with could. It’s a reminder that events and experiences are opportunities. And that we have the freedom to change our minds or live the life we want to lead.

#6 Emotional Reasoning

Assume everything that you feel is true? Whilst no-one should invalidate your feelings. Including yourself. And our emotions are a good litmus test as to how we feel about an experience. For example, stress is meant to feel uncomfortable so we do something about the situation to help us feel better. However, how we feel are not always a concrete representation of reality. And other people may feel differently. We can try to balance out this distortion by listening to our feelings and finding support if we need it. But also using our logical brain and ensure we find evidence that our emotions are the truth. Or perhaps we will find indications that although we feel a certain way. That is not necessarily the only way to feel.

What are your experiences of thought distortions? Are there others that you are aware of? What do you think helps when they come in to play? Let us know below!

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4 thoughts on “Thought Distortions: What Are They?

  1. A great article I have to say. For me catastrophizing is a real one and leads to other things. The tip about asking myself how likely the worst-case scenario is to happen sounds really practical and helpful, thanks for sharing

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