Distorted thinking can affect your mental health and behaviours.
You’re at the supermarket and catch sight of another school mum. Usually, she’d come over to say hello and have a chat - but today she doesn't. She simply pays for her items and leaves.
Which option below best describes your immediate response?
“I wonder why she ignored me. Did something happen between her child and mine? Did I say something to offend her the last time we talked?”
By the time you leave the supermarket, you’re convinced she hates you.
“Hmm, she mustn’t have seen me. Maybe she’s going through something and didn’t feel like chatting. I might give her a call later and find out if she’s ok and if there’s something I can do.”
You then continue with your shopping and don’t think about it anymore.
If Option A is usually your response, you’re experiencing cognitive distortion or distorted thinking.
“Negative thought patterns are a human tendency. But when it starts spiraling out of control,
it can be harmful to you and those around you.”
- Deidre Dattoli
What is cognitive distortion?
Cognitive distortion or distorted thinking is defined as thinking irrational thoughts or negative thought patterns. The thoughts aren’t based on facts or logical reasoning and might be far from reality.
Neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson discovered that the human brain has a natural negativity bias to deeply internalise negative experiences more than positive ones. According to Dr Hanson, the brain acts like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive ones.
Research has found the average person has more than 6000 thoughts every day!*
Scientists have developed a new way to determine the beginning and end of each thought. Identifying this moment as a "thought worm" allowed researchers to calculate exactly how many thoughts we have a day - the average was a staggering 6200 thoughts.
While many people have a tendency towards negative thoughts, when done too often, it distorts your view of the world and can affect your emotional state, mental health, behaviours, and relationships.
Cognitive distortion is also common in people who suffer from mental health or social disorders like anxiety and personality disorders. Anxiety can also lead to strong emotions which can prevent you from understanding the facts correctly.
“The average human being has 6,200 thoughts daily. Being aware of and learning
to recognise what’s going on in your mind is part of self-care.”
- Deidre Dattoli
Common types of cognitive distortions
There are different types of cognitive distortions. Learn to be aware of what they are, so you can identify and quickly reverse the thoughts when they start happening.
Jumping to conclusions or mind-reading
Personalisation - you feel directly responsible for events out of your control
Filtering – removing the positives and only focusing on negatives
Overgeneralisation - you take an isolated event and turn it into a self-defeating pattern
Discounting positives in a situation
Catastrophising – always thinking of the worst-case scenario
Control fallacies – believing you have full control over others and situations or feeling like you have no control over anything
Fallacy of fairness – feeling resentful when others don’t measure fairness in the way you do
Blaming others for how you feel
Assigning ‘should’ or rigid rules to situations without thinking about the specifics
Emotional reasoning – seeing the situation through emotions, not facts
Fallacy of change – thinking that other people will meet your expectations and needs if you pressure them enough
Global labelling – assigning labels to people based on isolated events
Always wanting to be right
Should Statements - telling yourself you should, shouldn’t, or should have done something when it’s more accurate to say that you’d have preferred or wished you had or hadn't done something.
How can you stop cognitive distortion?
A negative thought leads to another. Before you know it, you’re catastrophising about the worst-case scenario!
The best way to stop cognitive distortion is to recognise negative thoughts so you can get into the habit of reversing these thought patterns. It's about developing awareness and catching ourselves and learning to recognise distorted thinking to reduce the negative impact of these thinking patterns.
Awareness is where we meet our power! If you’re suffering from a mental health disorder, it can be harder to reframe. You may then need some professional help to learn some strategies.
Recognise the negative thought as it comes up
If you’re experiencing negative thoughts because of a person or event, remove yourself from the situation to avoid upsetting yourself further. Be aware of the difference between reality and thoughts about reality. The thought isn’t problematic - it’s that you believe the thought to be true or you
identify with the thought.
One way to recognise and deal with pressure is to use the ‘ACE’ (Acknowledge, Come back and Encouragement) strategy.
Look for positives
Reframing the event or person in a more positive light can stop a negative thought in its tracks. While you might find it challenging to think of positives in some situations, the idea is to get into the habit of being curious and exploring more balanced and positive thoughts. The more you’re curious and build your positivity muscle, the easier it is to shift your mindset from the negative, and ultimately improve or change the way you think.
Focus on facts
Avoid emotional reasoning by looking for the facts in any situation. Facts reflect the true nature of a person or a situation and are based on logic. Using facts to understand a situation means you’re more likely to uncover the obstacles preventing you from success and happiness.
Live a more authentic life
Is distorted thinking keeping you stuck in unhelpful thoughts or emotional patterns? If you’d like to know how to overcome these for good, join Ignite, an 8-week coaching program designed to help you get unstuck and move forwards towards a more authentic life.
If you’re looking for lifelong tools to allow you to live life with less stress, our Ignite Program can help.
*Source: Journal on Nature Communications at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada