Types of Cognitive Distortions and How to Challenge Them

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Cognitive distortions are types of negative thinking that are often related to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self esteem. They also play a role in eating disorders and substance use disorders. Cognitive distortions are irrational ways of thinking that lead to intense negative feelings.

There are several types of cognitive distortions most people tend to engage in. They are:

  • All or nothing thinking
  • Catastrophizing
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Personalizing
  • Mind reading

Below, you will find descriptions and examples of each type of cognitive distortion to help you evaluate whether you may be engaging in these types of thinking patterns.

All or Nothing Thinking

All or nothing thinking means viewing situations in one extreme or another. For example, “My classmates are so smart, they always get 100s. I’m so dumb because I don’t get as high of grades as them.”

Catastrophizing

This is thinking the worst possible outcome of a situation. For example, “If I don’t study for my exam tomorrow I’m going to fail and get kicked out of school.”

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is letting your feelings contradict facts. For example “I feel like my coworker doesn’t like me, so that’s probably true.”

Personalizing

When you personalize, you think someone else’s behavior has to do with you. For example “I know my kid is misbehaving because I’m a bad parent.”

Mind Reading

Mind reading is believing you know what others are thinking about you. For example “My friends think I’m boring, that’s why they don’t want to hang out with me.”

How to Challenge Cognitive Distortions

After reading through some of the most common cognitive distortions, you may have noticed negative thinking patterns you tend to engage in. In order to alleviate the intense negative feelings that result from cognitive distortions, you need to learn how to rationalize these irrational thoughts.

Once you are able to recognize that you are engaging in cognitive distortions, you can begin to label them as irrational and challenge them. In order to challenge an irrational thought, take a closer look at the situation. As you’re evaluating the situation, think about the evidence that supports your cognitive distortion and the evidence against it being true. Also think about whether you are judging the situation too harshly and try and invoke a sense of self compassion. Another way of challenging negative irrational thoughts is to try and put the situation in perspective by thinking about whether this will matter a year or five years from now.

Consider Working with a Therapist

Challenging cognitive distortions is a difficult task, especially if you are just beginning to work on this skill. Working with a therapist can help you strengthen your ability to challenge cognitive distortions. Therapists can provide worksheets to help you practice this skill at home. They can also help you recognize irrational ways of thinking that you may not notice during therapy sessions. If you would like to begin working with a therapist to strengthen your ability to challenge cognitive distortions, contact The Light Program online or by phone at (888) 686-7511.

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