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Twists & Turns in Thinking Patterns: Cognitive Distortions

Beck in 1979 listed in Cognitive Therapy of Depression following types of cognitive distortions:

  • Arbitrary inference
  • Selective abstraction
  • Overgeneralization
  • Magnification & minimization
  • Inexact labeling
  • Personalization
  • Absolutistic, dichotomous thinking
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Besides, Gibbs & Potter proposed following four categories of cognitive distortions:

  • Self-centered
  • Blaming others
  • Minimizing-mislabeling
  • Assuming the worst

David Burns, in his book Feeling Good compared unhelpful thinking styles with illusions performed by magicians. Different types of cognitive distortions due to automatic thinking or unhelpful thinking styles are described briefly as under:

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Types of Cognitive Distortions as per Burns

  • All or None Thinking: Also known as splitting/black & white/polarized thinking. Perceives life in black or white/success or failure/ good or bad. Lacks the concept of “in-between” or shades of gray. Commonly exhibited among perfectionists.
  • Jumping to Conclusions: eagerly conclude things with a very little or without evidence. Includes the automatic thinking like Mind reading and Fortune telling. In both the cases one predicts the negative thoughts/ behavior or future outcomes.
  • Emotional Reasoning: Believing that feelings solely expose the truth about things & exhibition of experience & emotional thoughts. Main distortion seen in people with panic disorder, as feelings of nervousness escalates into a panic attack.
  • Should/must & Shouldn’t/mustn’t statements: Concept of Must/should statements was introduced by Albert Ellis in his REBT. These are negative as leads to the feeling of guilt & being upset on oneself or by directing this on others causing anger & frustration.
  • Gratitude traps: Due to misunderstandings about the nature or practice of gratitude. Involves related but distinct thought patterns;
    • With feelings of guilt, shame, or frustration related to one’s expectations
    • A deceptive ‘kindness,’ make others feel indebted.
  • Personalization: Solely blame your own self for something that had gone wrong though you had little or nothing to do with the outcome as situation wasn’t related to you at all. People with depression or anxiety along with traumatic history like physical or emotional abuse.
  • Blaming Others: All blame is placed upon others, rather than oneself avoiding personal responsibility for something wrong and accepting one as a victim.
  • Being Right Always: Cannot think oneself being wrong. energetically involved in proving one’s actions or thoughts to be flawless prioritizing self-interest over the feelings of another person.
  • Magnification & Minimization: Burns called them as ‘binocular trick’ because errors, fears, or imperfections are exaggerated while strengths & achievements seem small & unimportant.
  • Labelling & Mislabeling: Not assuming behavior to be accidental or extrinsic, one assigns a label to someone or something based on the inferred character of that person or thing. I am stupid”, “I am ugly”, “I am hopeless” are all negative labels.
  • Overgeneralization: Burn’s mentions it as the process of arbitrarily concluding that “one thing that happened to you once will occur over and over again”. Such as seeing a “single negative event” as a “never-ending pattern of defeat” & concluding with insufficient evidence.
  • Avoiding the positives: Burns calls it the ability to transform neutral or even positive experiences into negative ones as a “spectacular mental illusion”. Negative belief is maintained despite contradiction by everyday experiences. Eg: “Anyone could have done as well”.
  • Mental Filtering: Picking out a negative detail out of many positives in any situation & dwelling on it exclusively, hence, perceiving everything as negative. The Feeling Good book by Burns notes that filtering is like a “drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water.”
  • Catastrophizing: Giving too much weightage to the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or else a situation as unbearable or impossible when it is just uncomfortable.
  • Coping Strategies for Cognitive Distortions
    • Narcissistic Defense: People with narcissistic personality unrealistically view themselves as superior, potentiating strengths & ignoring weaknesses thereby using exaggeration & minimization as a shield for psychological pain.
    • Cognitive restructuring: CR therapies eliminate “automatic thoughts” including dysfunctional or negative views. As per Beck, CR reduces feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, anhedonia, Depression & used as a key component of Beck’s and Burns’s CBT.
    • De-catastrophizing: A CR technique used to treat magnification & catastrophizing seen in anxiety disorders & psychosis. CR aim’s to help the client change their perceptions rendering the felt experience as less significant.

# Cognitive Psychology # Cognition

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