Our minds are simply incredible. The way they can take in information – analyze it, store it, and connect it – to create. It is the spark of human ingenuity and genius. Our minds are responsible for creating a world of beauty and innovation. However, our minds aren’t always creating positive things. Sometimes our minds make faulty connections and process incorrect or misguided information. Cognitive distortions are ways that our mind convinces us of things that aren’t necessarily true. And unfortunately, these inaccurate thoughts tend to reinforce negative thinking or our emotions. Today, we’re going to learn about 5 different kinds of cognitive distortion and learn how to restructure your thoughts.
Mind reading is the notion that you know what someone else is thinking. Although we are considering mind reading to be a cognitive distortion, this skill can be helpful at times. Mind reading is what helps us read body language and detect emotion – all within interpersonal encounters. But when we solely rely on this skill (and do so without enough evidence) it becomes problematic. Mind reading often reinforces false assumptions. And can evoke a plethora of negative emotions and waning confidence.
One tip to help restructure your thoughts when it comes to mind reading is writing down the thought. Sometimes just writing it down can help distance you from the thought. This distance can help you poke holes in the logic of that cognitive distortion.
Personalizing is a way of thinking that puts a majority of the blame on yourself. And while being accountable for blame is a good thing, discounting the blame of others isn’t. An example of personalizing is when you feel responsible for whether or not those you are with are having a good time when you’re with them.
If you think this sounds like you, try your best to put the situation in perspective. You know that you can only control things to a certain point. And as much as you’d like to, you can’t control the thoughts another has or the actions they take. You can only control how you think and act. So, act with kindness and operate with openness. The rest is out of your control.
Fortune telling is the concept of making negative predictions without actually knowing if that outcome will come true. It’s thinking you’re going to bomb a presentation or fail a test. This cognitive distortion is often linked to anxiety and depression. Fortune telling is one of the most common distortions that arise when trying to restructure your thoughts. You know what they say about making assumptions…
Take a deeper look at your prediction. What is the actual evidence to back it up? And are you the only person that believes your prediction? Are there any benefits to making a negative prediction in the first place? Does it actually help you prepare with that negative outcome? Or does it instead make you feel powerless or perhaps overly anxious? Ask yourself if your negative fortune telling is helpful or harmful.
All or Nothing Thinking
All or nothing thinking can be extremely damaging. This is a method of thinking of people or situations in black and white. All or nothing thinking keeps our minds closed to possibility and other ways of thinking. It’s a way of thinking in extremes with nothing in between. You are either doing well and successful or a complete failure. You either did extremely well during your presentation or you bombed it and fear termination.
One way to cope with all or nothing thinking is to try and remove yourself from the extremes and start to recognize the gray area. Maybe you did mess up one slide during that presentation, but during the rest of the presentation, you were confident and secure. Try to restructure your thoughts to allow you to see all sides of a situation.
Catastrophizing is the ultimate example of the cliché “to make a mountain out of a molehill”. It’s the idea of believing the outcome of a situation will be so dreadful you won’t be able to cope with it. This is bad because the more we tell ourselves we can’t handle something, the more we believe it. We lose hope and motivation to actively try to do our best to cope. Catastrophizing can result in increased anxiety and depression. But there are ways you can help restructure your thoughts to help you better handle the challenges life throws your way.
If you find yourself in catastrophic thought, think about the specific aspects of why the situation is so terrible. Ask yourself if you’ve dealt with anything similar in the past. Remind yourself that you are still here standing today – meaning you’ve survived something catastrophic once. What do you do to cope before? Who was in your support group then? And who can you rely on now? How do you think you’ll feel about this situation a week from now, even a month from now? Also, keep in mind the “non-catastrophic” part of your life. Show gratitude for the daily things you are thankful for.
Restructure Your Thoughts with CPA
Life is going to continually throw us obstacles. What matters most is not what comes our way, but how we cope with it. The next time a challenge comes your way, reflect on this information and recognize if you use cognitive distortion. We know you need a toolbox full of skills in order to cope with the challenges life throws at us. At CPA, we will always encourage patients to explore coping mechanisms that work best for them. However, we also know that a number of those skills come from counseling and different methods of therapy.
Cristina Panaccione and Associates has two locations in the South Hills and one office in Robinson Township. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help teach you the skills to cope with stress management!
Jennifer Krause – MS, LPC
Jennifer is a Licensed Professional Counselor who received her Masters of Science Degree from Chatham University. She has over 18 years of counseling experience with a wide range of patients in a variety of treatment settings. These have included: outpatient community mental health agencies, partial psychiatric hospital settings, both inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol facilities, correctional settings, and an outpatient intensive treatment foster care program. Her clinical experience has been broad, treating both adolescents and adults struggling with: addiction, trauma, mood disorders, anger management issues, borderline personality disorder, depression, and anxiety. I also have experience with couples counseling, working with families, and group therapy. She has extensive training in Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Trauma-Focused CBT.