Let’s focus on cognitive distortions for a while. Our mind is quite a busy bee. It’s being bombarded with stimuli and information all the time. It has to process them, store them, synthesize them, categorize them—all of this to help us understand the world and the people around us. However, there is so much to process and so little time. That’s why our mind often uses shortcuts and heuristics to make the processing more efficient, faster and save some resources and energy. It’s a vital ability. We wouldn’t be able to process or do nearly anything if it wasn’t for these little shortcuts. However, using them and trying to simplify the world around us sometimes takes its toll. It sometimes slips, overlooks something crucial, and then it makes a faulty or misleading conclusion. And instead of helping us, it creates more problems than it solves. Moreover, sometimes, these faulty patterns of thinking get stuck in our heads. They become our habitual ways of thinking despite being flawed, and they perpetuate negative emotions.
These shortcuts that twist our accurate perception of reality and the situation we are in are often called and referred to as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions have a great impact on our mood, on how we feel and think. They can affect our behavior, decisions, and also relationships with others. We all use them from time to time. However, if left unchecked and uncontrolled, they can have a negative impact on our mental health. They can become our bad thinking habits. Research suggests that we develop these patterns of cognitively distorted thinking especially when we’re trying to cope with stress, uncertainty, rejection, or abandonment.
There are many various classifications of cognitive distortions. Here is a list of only a few of them, which you have most likely already experienced at least once in your life.
Whenever you say to yourself something like: “I never do anything right” or “Why is this always happening to me?” you’re most probably overgeneralizing because you’re making a definite conclusion based on a single incidence or occurrence. You can read about this habit in more depth in the post by my colleague Radek (https://www.talktopoppy.com/post/pay-attention-to-your-thoughts).
It’s when we expect only the worst possible outcome to happen and that it will be so unpleasant and disastrous that we won’t be able to handle it. This could lead to a horrifying scenario about our whole life. Like: “My girlfriend/boyfriend broke up with me, nobody will ever want to be in a relationship with me again, I’ll never find someone who could love me, I’ll be alone, and I’ll die alone.”
I bet that we’ve all been through moments when we say to ourselves “I’m such an idiot!” or “I’m just a joke.” Sometimes, we call others like that: “He’s a fool!” “She’s a weirdo.” Labeling is a cognitive distortion where you use one word or just one characteristic to describe the entire person. I know that it helps to vent, but it’s also dangerous because it is reductive. The label replaces and obscures the complexity of the person.
“He thinks I’m not worthy.” “I’m sure they don’t love me.” These are often inaccurate and hurtful assumptions about what other people think.
Control fallacy is a belief that we have less or more control over the situation than we really have. Often it is the belief that we have absolutely no control over our situation, that we are powerless and there’s nothing we can do.
Because all these are irrational, distorted, and overly negative ways of perceiving and thinking about the world around us, it’s important to observe our thoughts, emotions, and mood, refine our ability to be aware of these distortions, notice them and recognize them. Simply being conscious and seeing these kinds of shortcuts is the first step toward change. Don’t be afraid to question whether your negative thoughts are actually true because often they are unjustified.
Did you know that Poppy can help you tackle your negative, distorted thoughts? Try talking with her whenever your thoughts are making you feel unwell.