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Anything we think of, we tend to trust. Generally this is a useful part of our daily habits but, what happens when you start having thoughts that make you second guess?
Our Experiences vs Reality
Despite our expanding discoveries, our brains can sometimes misguide us. Our experiences with the environment require constant coding, organizing, and interpreting in order to make sense of incoming stimuli. Our prior experiences help inform the meaning we give new experiences however, the complexity of our cognitive processes, our brains can sometimes create unhelpful connections. These connections are called cognitive distortions.
Imagine you’re walking along the hallway at work or school. From a distance you see an acquaintance. As the other person approaches, they appear to notice you but keep walking without acknowledging you. There are several ways to interpret that situation. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
What are Cognitive Distortions?
Cognitive distortions are defined as, “biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us.” These thoughts can lead to irrational beliefs that are reinforced over time. These maladaptive beliefs can contribute to the development of mental health disorders. Being aware of distortions is important to creating a healthy mindset.
Psychiatrists Dr. David Burns. and Dr. Aaron Beck were interested in understanding the relationship between cognitive distortions and mental health disorders. Through their research, they discovered cognitions fall into groups.
Dr. Burns lists some of these cognitions in his book “Feeling Good Handbook (1989)“:
○ The inability to see situations as neutral; everything is seen in extremes.
○ Taking one experience as an overall pattern. This can lead to having negative thoughts rooted in one or two experiences.
○ The inability to see a situation as a whole but rather focusing on a single negative aspect even if positive aspects are present.
Disqualifying the Positive
○ Lacking the ability to accept positive experiences as they are and instead rejects them. This can lead to aiding negative thought patterns even within positive experiences.
○ The distorted belief that one can read people’s minds often leading to negative interpretations of those thoughts
○ Within this distortion, the perspective of the importance of each experience is either exaggerated or minimized.
○ The idea that one’s emotions are in fact true subscribing to the idea that,“I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
○ Statements said to yourself about what you think you “should” do. This can lead to creating expectations for others which have a high possibility of not being met.
○ Also known as an “extreme form of overgeneralization,” within this distortion, one attaches judgements to others and ourselves based on limited experience.
○ The assumption that you are the blame of a situation lacking logic in the reason to support this belief.
Making the distinction between distorted thoughts and thoughts based in what is real is challenging. In the scenario from the beginning, it’s very difficult to know for sure why the acquaintance didn’t acknowledge you. In the absence of data, we may make conclusions based cognitive distortions, or an inaccurate interpretation of the event.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy examines our cognitions to see if there is distortions. CBT helps identify the cognitive distortion that could be affecting our mental health. By seeing experiences without cognitive distortions, we can begin to change how we think, feel, and behave.
About the Author: Rudairo Segbeaya is a Behavior Therapist and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. She is currently interested in understanding the relationship between race and mental health specifically within the African American community as well as finding possible solutions to healing intergenerational trauma. Rudairo received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and is currently undertaking a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.