Recognizing Your Distortions
(from health news on line)
Ten common cognitive distortions appear below. They are based on theories of cognitive therapy expounded by Aaron T. Beck, M.D., which were further refined and brought to popular attention by David D. Burns, M.D. Do any of these distortions resonate with you? Use this list to help make you aware of ingrained negative thought patterns and try to substitute more realistic, positive thoughts.
All or nothing. If you don’t perform flawlessly, you consider yourself a complete failure.
Overgeneralization. One negative event, such as a slight from your spouse or an encounter with a dishonest merchant, fits into an endless pattern of dismaying circumstances and defeat. For example, you might think, "He’s always cold" or "You can’t trust anyone."
Mental filter. One negative episode, such as a rude comment made to you during an otherwise enjoyable evening, shades everything like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water.
Ignoring the positive. Positive input, such as an affectionate gesture or outright praise, just doesn’t count. Self-deprecation deflects all compliments. You might say, "It’s no big deal."
Leaping to conclusions. You draw negative conclusions without checking to see if they have any foundation in fact. You may be mind reading: "My friend seems upset, she must be mad at me." Or you may be fortune telling: "I just know the results of my medical test won’t be good."
Magnification or minimization. You exaggerate potential problems or mistakes until they snowball into a catastrophe (as in the lab results example in Recognizing Your Distortions). Or you minimize anything that might make you feel good, such as appreciation for a kind act you did or the recognition that other people have flaws, too.
Emotional reasoning. You feel sure that your negative, emotional view of a situation reflects hard and fast truth. For example: "My husband drops his socks on the floor just to aggravate me."
"Should" statements. You adhere to a rigid set of beliefs and internal rules about what you "should" be doing and feel guilty when you don’t stay the course.
Labeling. Rather than describe a mistake or challenge in your life, you label yourself negatively: "I’m a screw-up." When another person’s behavior bothers you, you pin a global label on him or her: "She’s so controlling."
Personalization. You blame yourself for triggering a negative event that occurred for complex reasons or for something that was largely out of your control. "If I had taken care of myself properly, I never would have gotten cancer."
Other clues can also help you identify distorted thinking. Sentences that include the words "must," "should," "ought," "always," and "never" are often harsher than necessary and reflect rigid thinking that could stand to be softened.