Monday, February 7, 2011

Identifying Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive Distortions are basically irrational beliefs that we create and repeat to ourselves. These distortions decrease mood, and increase stress, anxiety, frustration, and guilt. (Click here for other posts in this series). If we cannot identify and change our distortions, we cannot be healthy individuals, and, at the very least, we will make life much more difficult for ourself.

The following are the first few types of cognitive distortions (from D. Burns, 1980, Feeling Good).

1.     ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
2.     OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
3.     MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and drwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.1.      
4.     DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
 5. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow's imperfections). This is also called the "binocular trick." -This is also known as awfulizing

So What Can You Do?
We cannot change our distortions until we identify how and when we think them. Watch yourself the next few days, and try to catch yourself in these irrational beliefs. Once you know how you think, you can begin to change. When you catch yourself saying (or thinking) a distortion, immediately change it. You don't have to believe the new statement, but say it anyways. This practice will start to change your patterns of thought, thus increasing mood and decreasing stress and frustration. 

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