Many clients with problems as varied as anxiety, stress, insomnia, overeating, compulsive behaviours and depression, have one thing in common. They all suffer the symptoms of negative beliefs about themselves and the world that they inhabit.
These beliefs are described as cognitive distortions or errors in thinking
These patterns negatively distort the way in which we see the world, ourselves and those around us and reinforce negative thinking or emotions.
The American psychiatrist Aaron Beck first uncovered these patterns in the 1960s while working with depressed clients. He observed that many of his clients experienced recurring negative thoughts and that as long as they believed these thoughts to be true, they would continue to have symptoms of depression. He concluded that in order to change the symptoms, he must change their distorted thinking.
By having an awareness of these thinking traps and calming those anxiety-creating thoughts down, we are able to disrupt these negative patterns and restore more rational, balanced thinking.
Of course on occasions we all tend to think in extremes. And when traumatic events happen we think that way even more.
Here are some common cognitive distortions. Take a look and see if any of them are having a negative impact on your life.
You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolours the entire glass of water.
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.
Jumping to conclusions:
You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check it out.
You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
Magnification (catastrophising) or minimisation:
You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your mistake or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or others imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also part of this error, the emotional consequence of which is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
Labelling and mislabelling:
This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a failure.” When someone else’s behaviour rubs you up the wrong way, you attach a negative label to them. Mislabelling involves describing an event with language that is highly coloured and emotionally loaded.
You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.