Dr. Aaron T. Beck came up with the definition of cognitive distortion and cognitive therapy back in the 60's. When he was working with depressed patients he noticed that the common denominator were the negative thoughts and conceptions that seemed to guide their lives.
Dr. Beck termed these cognitions “automatic thoughts" as they seemed to appear spontaneously. He classified cognitive distortion into three groups: negative views about the self, negative views about the world at large and negative views about the future.
By helping patients identify their thought patterns they were able to think more realistically which lead them to feel better, heal emotionally and behave more functionally in their environments. This is how cognitive therapy was born.
As a matter of fact, it is quite possible for all of us to have negative and unrealistic views at any point in our lives even without a mood disorder diagnosis. We tend to call this phenomena “pessimism" in which our mind fails to be objective for a specific period of time, especially when under stress. Fortunately, this is short lived for most of us.
Here are the 10 common cognitive distortion states. See which one you recognize as an “old friend. " We have all experienced at least one and more likely several of them. The good news is that by bringing them to awareness, we can start working on them consciously. Always remember the premise that we are the direct result of what we think of most of the time.
1. All or Nothing.
The characteristic of this distortion is the focus on extremes. You can recognize this form of thinking if you commonly use “always" or “never" in your statements; i. e. “I never get to go to the movies" or “I always get yelled at. " As an all-or-nothing thinker you are seeing things bigger and uglier than they really are.
2. Jumping to Conclusions.
These people jump into conclusions before hearing the whole story or looking at the evidence. Usually their conclusion has a negative slant; i. e. “The party will be boring and nobody will talk to me, so I won't go" or “She's so smart and beautiful. She won't like me, so why bother trying to talk to her. "
3. Mental Filter.
As the term implies it, these individuals filter information not based on reality. They take the positive aspects of life for granted while amplifying the negative events. None of the scenarios are real; i. e. a person that believes their whole day is ruined because of a traffic jam without giving much thought to the promotion he got last week.
4. Disqualifying the Positive.
For these individuals positive occurrences are just coincidences or a result of mere luck. They never give positive events the importance they deserve. On the contrary, a negative episode is usually seen as something terrible and huge, much worse than it actually is or could be; i. e. “I just won a trip to Disneyland and know my kids would be thrilled, but I hate the long lines. I will get sore feet so I won't go. "
These individuals base their future life experiences in isolated events that they have experienced; i. e. “I got a headache at the beach last Sunday, so (my conclusion is) I get headaches at the beach. "
6. Magnification and Minimization.
The emphasis is put on the qualities of other people or events by exaggerating them to extreme proportions. At the same time, negative characteristics are minimized or ignored completely. Uncomfortable situations look like catastrophes to these people; i. e. “I got a flat tire, my day is ruined. "
7. “Should" Statements.
Self expectations are huge and always self imposed. These people are not flexible with themselves making their life a stream of constant stress; i. e. “I should have gone to the grocery store first. I don't have time to go now. "
8. Emotional Reasoning.
These individuals let their emotions interfere when making decisions or getting to conclusions, without allowing themselves to be reasonable. By becoming emotional they tend to distort the facts. They end up feeling powerless; they believe unfair situations “happen" to them. Their emotions won't let them see events objectively; i. e. “You made me cry, so you are mean to me. "
People who personalize tend to blame either themselves or others about the events that happen in their lives. When the blame is self imposed it creates a lot of stress. These individuals are not objective either; i. e. “I'm not good enough for you, that is why you left me. "
These people are always placing labels on others or on themselves. These labels are usually inaccurate and have a negative slant to them; i. e. “I'm so stupid" or “She's so pretentious. " These labels are seeing as absolutes. Other qualities or other aspects of ourselves or of others are ignored. We are all multi-dimensional beings with both, qualities and defects. Placing labels don't let us see this.
Often times, this negative thought and cognitive distortion patterns begin in childhood and can go unnoticed for years. They become part of who we are quite by habit. This is why becoming aware is so important. Do you notice any of these distortions in your internal dialog? Becoming aware of our thoughts and behaviors is the first step to move beyond them and grow. The scientific process to get rid of these is called “Cognitive Restructuring" and the rewards are not only empowering but permanent.
We'll discuss this in the second part of this article.
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