Our thoughts are quite powerful and can change our lives for the better or the worse. Despite what some might think, we do get to have control over how we let our thoughts lead our lives. Things can get pretty messy when these thoughts are distorted but what does it even mean to have distorted thoughts? How do you know if you have a distorted thought process or patterns? Let’s find out what it means, if you have any distorted thought processes, what you can do about it and how knowing this will help you live more mindfully.
Back in the day, this awesome guy in the mental health science field, Dr. David D. Burns (https://feelinggood.com/), wrote a book called, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Book. In it, he talks about the distortions we are going to talk about below. There are other cognitive distortions or thought distortions that are out there from other great leaders & researchers in the mental health world but we are just going to focus on the top 10.
What are distorted thoughts?
Distorted thoughts reinforce negative thinking or negative emotions. Other words for ‘distort’ include alter, deceive, twist, misconstrue & warp. So these distorted thought patterns are ways that our minds have been wired in some way or another (nature and or nurture) to mislead us into irrational thinking that isn’t true. But usually, most people aren’t aware of these negative thought processes so they don’t even realize it’s happening and for some people these thoughts are heavily impacting their depression and anxiety.
This is just another example of how being aware of our thoughts will lead to a healthier whole self.
(Remember the trickle down effect?)
Here are 10 common distorted thoughts. Look through the list and take note if you fall into any of these. Going a step further you can rate each one on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being not at all and 10 being all of the time as to how often this is your thought process. This way, you can look at the numbers that are the highest and work on one or two of them in the beginning in order to create clearer ways of thinking and a more positive thought process. If you take on all of them at once, that could be quite overwhelming and difficult to change so much at once. This can then lead to bigger disappointment for not succeeding quicker or at all which then usually ends up in giving up on trying at all.
So read through the 10 most common thought distortions, rate them 1-10 and then we’ll go over ways to start changing them.
1- All-or-nothing thinking:
Also known as ‘black or white thinking’. You might see yourself or what you do as perfect or as a complete failure. Nothing is in between. Things are seen in extremes. Something is right or wrong, good or bad and there is no middle ground.
If one thing goes wrong then everything will go wrong in overgeneralization. Common words in this type of thought process include “never,” “always,” “every,” or “all.” You will take one instance and now generalize it for all other instances.
3- Disqualifying the positive:
This thought process is not just thinking about the negatives or only seeing the negatives but it is knowing the positives and ignoring the positives. The positives “don’t count” and you find negative spins on everything.
4- Jumping to conclusions:
This is just what it sounds like. You jump to a negative conclusion without definitive facts to support your interpretation. There are 2 different ways that people jump to conclusions:
—Mind reading: Your conclusion is based on believing you know what someone is thinking and this is usually a negative interpretation.
—Fortune teller: Your conclusion is based on your prediction of the future. You anticipate what will happen will turn out badly and believe this to be your truth.
5- Mental filter:
You dwell on a single negative detail or experience and filter out any of the positives. This occurs frequently in relationships as a partner allows one negative comment or event to cloud over all of the good things that have happened in the relationship and now they see the relationship as doomed or hopeless.
6- Magnification or minimization:
Magnifying or exaggerating the importance or meaning of things. Also known as the “binocular trick” as you are blowing things out of proportion. On the other end, you could be minimizing by trivializing the importance or meaning of things. This can be done at the same time as magnification or on its own. An example of this would be believing your career will go nowhere or is over because you didn’t get as big of promotion you had wanted and the promotion you did get doesn’t mean anything.
7- Should statements:
We all do this one at some point but this distortion can lead down an ugly path creating feelings of shame & guilt or disappointment & resentment. Common words in this type of thought process include “should,” “ought,” or “must.” You might talk this way of your self about what you should do or should have done (creating shame & guilt) or you might talk this way of others on what they should do or should have done (creating disappointment, anger, & resentment).
8- Labeling or mislabeling:
This is more of an extreme form of overgeneralization. In this type of thinking you are not just overgeneralizing the situation but you are now attaching a negative label to yourself or to others based off of a single event or experience. This is when people will often label themselves as a ‘failure’ or ‘loser’ or use colorful words to label others.
9- Emotional reasoning:
You base your fact on the way that you feel. You use your emotions to create your reality. The way that you feel is the way that you are. “I feel it, so it must be true” is a common thought in this distortion.
You take personal blame for the negative event that occurred. Even though you are not responsible for it and have no logical reason that you are the cause, you take it personally and see yourself as the reason the negative thing happened.
Being aware and acknowledging your distorted thoughts is the first and biggest step to take. Now that you have read the 10 common distorted thoughts and rated them 1-10 (if you did), decide which one you want to work on first. Here are some helpful suggestions to clearer and positive thinking (coming soon)