10 Common Cognitive Distortions: Why Your Thoughts Can Be Dangerous

common cognitive distortion

Cognitive distortions are negative thoughts/beliefs that create a false sense of reality. These thoughts tend to color the way we communicate with and understand people. Needless to say, a distorted sense of reality is dangerous. They lead to listening errors that cause us and others a great deal of unnecessary pain. Here are 10 common cognitive distortions that show why your thoughts can be dangerous. 

  1. Filtering

Cognitive filtering as one of the common cognitive distortions, is very much like filtering as a separation method. Here, we sort through information and hold on to just the negative stuff. For example, you get a performance evaluation that has both positive feedback and constructive criticism. When you filter, you ignore everything that was said, and hold on to the criticism.  This is known as selective listening. At the end of the day, you are left with negative feelings because all you remember is “my performance was not good”.

  1. Overgeneralization

Overgeneralization occurs when you take a small detail from something someone said or did, and overgeneralize it to everything else. For example, believing that you will never be good at math because you failed one test.

  1. Catastrophic Thinking

Catastrophic thinking is a cognitive distortion because it transforms reality on an extreme scale. An example of catastrophic thinking is if you ask your partner how your new hairstyle or haircut looks, and they say, you don’t look good in it. You may end up thinking, “My partner thinks I don’t look good at all, they don’t think I’m attractive” Another is having a failed long-term relationship and believing that, “I will never find love.”

  1. Polarized thinking

Polarization is a science term that may sound familiar because of ions or magnets. Polarized thinking is “black and white” or “this or that” thinking. So if you think in a polarized manner, you may believe that a person who lied to you is a bad person. You may also believe that someone who does not love you, hates you. 

  1. Jumping to Conclusions 

You’re probably familiar with this expression, and as such the meaning is straightforward. This cognitive distortion is almost like you’re predicting the future. Remember watching a movie and assuming you knew who the bad guy was? That’s just like jumping to a conclusion. You predict people’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings and believe that your belief is the truth. After your partner misses a call from you, you may send messages like “Why are you ignoring my calls? Who are you with?”

  1. Personalization

Personalization occurs when you attribute other people’s behaviors to you. You take everything personally. So if you are walking by a group of people and you hear them laughing, you assume they are laughing at you. Personalization is one of the most common cognitive distortions.

  1. Heaven’s Reward

Operating with this distortion leads you to believe that allowing yourself to suffer or engage in repeated self-sacrifice, will lead to some sort of reward. For example, you might decide to do multiple things out of your job scope and comfort zone for your boss and coworkers, believing that it will eventually pay off in some way. If you do not see any reward for this behavior, you become quite unhappy, bitter, and resentful. 

  1. Fallacy of Shoulds

This cognitive distortion is usually as a result of telling yourself that things should be a certain way. “Men should always pay for things” or “Women should always be subservient” are examples of relationship “shoulds” that cause unhappy situations. Because this is also one of the most common cognitive distortions, it is important to be mindful of the “shoulds” that cause you challenges in your life.

  1. Emotional reasoning

Emotional reasoning involves believing that once you feel a certain way, then that’s the absolute truth. You may believe that because you feel unwanted, it means your partner does not want you.  

  1. Blaming

Blaming is a form of absolute thinking. You either blame other people for all your pain and problems, or you blame yourself for others’. So if you’re unsatisfied with your academic, professional or romantic life, you may blame it on your absentee father. You may also believe that your ex has continued to have multiple failed relationships because you broke their heart. 

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