Skip to content

Seeing Your Cognitive Distortions and Learning to Change Them

How to Change Your Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions can lead to irrational beliefs which cause conflict and emotional pain. Here's how you can recognize your cognitive distortions and change your thinking patterns for the better.

What Is Cognitive Distortion?

In essence, cognitive distortions are skewed perceptions of reality. We all perceive reality through a distinctive lens shaped by our experiences, religions, cultures and beliefs. At the same time, if you suffer from low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or perfectionism, these issues can shape the way you perceive reality.

When people experience cognitive distortions based on low self-esteem or insecurities, they tend to suffer from increased stress and other painful emotions. As thoughts stir up even more feelings, they lead to even more negative thoughts, creating an endless negative feedback loop. When we act on distorted perceptions, conflicts often arise leading to negative consequences and more emotional pain.

Coping with Cognitive Distortion

To overcome cognitive distortions, you first need to know what to watch for. The most common types of cognitive distortions include:

  • Negative filtering
  • Labeling
  • Magnification
  • Overgeneralizing
  • Personalization
  • Negative projections
  • All-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking
  • Catastrophizing
  • Blaming

How do you know if your perceptions are real or distorted? There are a few techniques you can use to test the accuracy of your thoughts, including:

Assess the evidence. Much like a judge overseeing a trial, you want to remove yourself from the emotionality of an experience and examine the evidence objectively. It can help to imagine that someone else is in your shoes going through a similar experience.

Try compassionate self-talk. When you are struggling with a situation, focus on treating yourself like a friend. You would never fill a struggling friend's head with judgmental, negative thoughts. Treat yourself with compassion just as you would treat a friend who is going through a hard time.

Think in shades of gray. Black-and-white thinking often leads people down the path of irrational belief. If we don't achieve the outcome we want, we tend to regard the experience as a failure. In reality, things are rarely so cut and dry. Try to assess situations on a scale of 1 to 100, whether it involves danger, disappointment or a specific outcome.

Put your thoughts to the test. You can test the rationality of your thoughts much like a scientist would test a hypothesis. For instance, if you fear your friends are shunning you because they haven't liked your recent social media posts, you can invite them to lunch or drinks. You can also use a survey method to test the validity of thoughts. This involves soliciting the opinions of trusted friends, family members or a professional therapist to see whether they think your thoughts about a given situation are realistic.

Alter your internal language. The word "should" is a telltale sign of a cognitive distortion. When we say we should do something, we are judging ourselves for not having done it yet. Try altering your internal language by substituting "should" with "it would be nice if." This can have a surprisingly powerful effect on your well-being by removing needless guilt and self-shame.

Analyze the cost vs. benefit. With this strategy, you identify and respond to cognitive distortions by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of feelings. Does it make you stronger or happier when you think thoughts that make you feel bad? When you think in these terms, it gets easier to let go of negative thinking which serves no real purpose.

Our caring therapists can help you overcome life's greatest challenges. Contact us today!