In my last Thoughtful Thursday post, I shared a bit about negative thinking, which is also known as cognitive distortions; although not all cognitive distortions seem negative. Some may seem positive, but can be unrealistic. Let’s address how hope can affect cognitive distortions.
Below is a list and examples of some cognitive distortions. This excerpt is written by John M. Grohol, Psy.D., and can be found in his article 15 Common Cognitive Distortions at his website, PsychCentral.com. These are well-written and explained in terms that are understandable. I couldn’t describe these much better. This is a wonderful resource for those of you who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, those who struggle with negative thinking, or those who just want to learn more about achieving balance and living a more fulfilling life. Here’s the excerpt:
We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.
2. Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking).
In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure — there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.
4. Jumping to Conclusions.
Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us.
For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them but doesn’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact.
We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).
For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).
Personalization is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to the person. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc.
A person engaging in personalization may also see themselves as the cause of some unhealthy external event that they were not responsible for. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t have happened.”
7. Control Fallacies.
If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”
8. Fallacy of Fairness.
We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us when we’re growing up and something doesn’t go our way, “Life isn’t always fair.” People who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it. Because life isn’t “fair” — things will not always work out in your favor, even when you think they should.
We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions.
We have a list of ironclad rules about how others and we should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.
For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When a person directs should statements toward others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment.
11. Emotional Reasoning.
We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid and boring, then we must be stupid and boring. You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect he way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
12. Fallacy of Change.
We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
13. Global Labeling.
We generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment. These are extreme forms of generalizing, and are also referred to as “labeling” and “mislabeling.” Instead of describing an error in context of a specific situation, a person will attach an unhealthy label to themselves.
For example, they may say, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they failed at a specific task. When someone else’s behavior rubs a person the wrong way, they may attach an unhealthy label to him, such as “He’s a real jerk.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. For example, instead of saying someone drops her children off at daycare every day, a person who is mislabeling might say that “she abandons her children to strangers.”
14. Always Being Right.
We are continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate our rightness. For example, “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going to win this argument no matter what because I’m right.” Being right often is more important than the feelings of others around a person who engages in this cognitive distortion, even loved ones.
15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.
We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.
Understanding cognitive distortions can help you understand how this kind of unrealistic and negative thinking can steal your hope and your joy. Let’s take number 5 on the list, “catastrophizing.” If you’re one who looks for and expects the absolute worst outcome in most situations, what do you think this will eventually do to your hope? Let’s say you are from a large family, and there have been 2 or 3 immediate family members who have died from cancer. If you tend to catastrophize, each time you feel an ache or pain, your thoughts will automatically go to “What if it’s cancer? What if I’m dying of cancer, too?” Where is your hope in this scenario? It’s still there, but it’s buried deep within. Your negative thinking has robbed you of hope and joy in life. If you can learn to change your cognitive distortions into more realistic, healthy, positive thinking, your hope will find it’s way back into the forefront of your life. Once you begin to nurture your hope, this kind of thinking will lose its control over your life, and you will find balance and joy once again. Maybe you’re asking, “How do I change it?” If your negative thinking is severe and pervasive, you may need help from a mental health professional. Ask your PCP for a referral. But to get you started, here is another article by Dr. Grohol that may be beneficial.
If you feel hopeless, please contact your mental health professional, your PCP, go to your local hospital emergency department, call 911, or call the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at
Happy Hopeful Journey!
None of the articles on this site are peer-reviewed, nor are meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or otherwise heal any mental or physical condition. The site is for your enjoyment and entertainment only (as well as for mine), but hopefully my life experience, and research-based information will assist you in developing a self-care regimen in finding balance in your life.
Grohol, JM. (2016). 15 common cognitive distortions. PsychCentral. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/