The power of negative thinking: The Ten Cognitive Distortions

The following are the most common ways in which people distort their thinking about themselves. Each of these feels reasonable at the moment, but ends up making you feel bad about yourself. See if you recognize some of the traps you fall into that may keep you feeling depressed or anxious. Practice using rebuttals like the ones suggested to keep these from becoming entrenched in your thoughts.

1. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in absolute categories. If your performance isn’t perfect, you feel like a total failure (Wrong – there are always shades of gray, from “not very good” to “OK, I guess” to “pretty good” to “good enough”).

2. Over-generalization: You view a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of failure (Wrong – a single event is just a single event, and isn’t determined by most other events).

3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it so exclusively that it colors your whole vision of reality – like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water (Wrong – learn to see the other 99% of things that are positive as real indicators of how you’re doing).

4. Disqualifying the positive: By rejecting positive experience (“it doesn’t count”), you nurture a negative belief that is contraindicated by everyday experience (Wrong – learn never to use the word “but” when you hear praise. Use a second sentence if you need one).

5. Jumping to conclusions: You interpret events negatively, even though there is no evidence to support your conclusion, by:

A. Mind reading. You simply assume that people are reacting negatively to you (Wrong – No one can know what anyone else is thinking unless they tell us).

B. Fortune-telling. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, then convince yourself that the prediction is established fact (Wrong – You can’t know the future, since it isn’t written and depends on other things that still may happen).

6. Catastrophizing or minimizing: You exaggerate the importance of, for example, your goof-up or someone else’s achievement; or you minimize into insignificance your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections (Wrong – your qualities are no worse just because they are yours, and their qualities are no better just because they are theirs).

7. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your emotions necessarily reflect reality: “I feel like an idiot, so I must be one” (Wrong – Your emotions are always valid reflections of how you feel, but not necessarily reflections of anything else. Feelings can lie).

8. “Should” statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts (musts and oughts). When you direct these statements toward others, telling them what they “should” do, you reap anger and resentment. When you direct them at yourself, you reap resistance or guilt (Wrong – “shoulds” represent someone else’s value system; only “wants” represent yours).

9. Labelling: An extreme form of over-generalization involving emotionally loaded language. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” Or, when you find someone annoying, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a creep” (Wrong – labels inhibit communication since they are too general to be accurate, and they only aid in discrimination and criticism).

10.            Personalization (self-blame or other-blame): You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not responsible (Wrong – bad things happen in the world all the time, and in reality you are almost never the cause. Besides, blame is an after-the-fact event that does nothing to change things).



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