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Cognitive Distortions

Let’s go deep.  Really deep, like penetrating deep.  Soft and slow, let’s go.  I have no idea why I tried to make that sexual, but hope I got your attention.

Yesterday I came across the 15 main cognitive distortions laid out by David Burns and Aaron Beck.  I had first come across these distortions while in the psychward all those years ago.  I remember so many “aha” moments reading them.  Low and behold I re-read them and had a few “aha” moments from this past year.  So let’s review each one and look at them from the point of view of my lifestyle change and the now in the past friendship that ended up causing me extra pain (through no fault of the friend).

Let’s do this deep thing!

1. Filtering.

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.

Yikes!  Um, well story time.  When I started my friendship with my now ex friend I kind of flirted with him.  As it turns out I am BAD at flirting.  (and also should not be flirting because I am, um, married).  Nonetheless, I ended up asking him outright if he was at all attracted to me.  He said no.  Actually I am filtering that out too, what he said was something along the lines of “as a person I think you are amazing, have a great heart, have all the qualities I would look for in a future spouse, but no I am not sexually attracted to you.”  I then asked “is it because I’m fat”.  (What a loaded question!)  He said “yes. I feel bad saying that”.  As our friendship went on, no matter what he said that was good (and trust me, he used to say some very nice things about me as a person), it always came back to “i am fat and ugly”.  So while at times I had no feelings for my friend that were romantic, whenever he said “i want to bang her” to other women we know (he said this a lot) or started a relationship, somehow I always felt “oh that is what beauty looks like).  So no matter what he said good, I filtered out and only remembered this small comment he said a long time ago.  Ironically I should not have ever put my self esteem in his or any other person’s hand, I have to love me, but let’s leave that for another day.  Also ironically I was and am worshipped as a Goddess of beauty by my husband, but again let’s save that for another day.

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.

While trying to achieve my health, I fall into this distortion often.  When I’m good I’m good and when I’m bad well I say “let’s kill myself”.  It’s so stupid, but if I fail at something in life, I feel I AM a failure.  When I try to get healthy and say overeat, I am a failure who deserves to be unhealthy.  I am so hard on myself.

3. Overgeneralization.

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.

This one is simple.  I have been very hurt by people in the past and assume all people will hurt me.  I am learning to trust now, but I have been guilty of this distortion.

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.

If anyone knows me they know I am so guilty of this.  Let’s go back to the old friend.  I would text, he would not text back in a “timely fashion” and I’d assume he was upset at something he did.  Period, I jump to conclusions.  Still do.  Working on it!

5. Catastrophizing.

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).

What if no one likes this blog post?  I bet that means they don’t like me?  I bet no one will be my friend.  This is the worst thing ever!!!!!!!

6. Personalization.

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?”

I am sure I have control issues, okay I know I do.  While it may appear that my distortion is external control that is in fact false.  I may have little pity parties, but it is always blaming me for being a horrible person, never about my past or things that have happened to me.  But the internal controls yep.  I assume I am to blame for lots of things I have nothing to do with.  As my old friend used to say “it’s not about Jenn all the time”.

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.

Ha, this is all comedians all the time, but yep, sometimes I have been guilty of this, but not as much as the others.

9. Blaming.

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.

I was like this in my early twenties.  I would blame everything on my family or past things that happened to me.  Those days are gone, alas I went the other way and blamed myself for everything.  Now I hope I am more in the middle!

10. Shoulds.

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.

I should exercise more.  People should be pro-choice.  I should have not overtexted my friend who is now gone.  Yep, guilty as charged for “shoulding” all over myself.

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 the way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

When I feel ugly, I assume it is true.  I assume everyone is looking at me thinking I am ugly.  I overcompensate being nice at times to people I don’t even like because I think it makes me less ugly.  Guess what, I’m not ugly.

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.

I don’t even want to think about this one, it does so deep.  Let’s just say I may have put “too many eggs in one basket” friendship wise, and was fully dependent on what this person thought of me, so maybe at times I tried too hard to get them to say nice things.  Ugh that wasn’t a pleasant thought about myself, but first step I guess is to acknowledge the truth.  yuck.

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.”

When trying to lose weight, when I fell off the diet wagon, I’d say “I’m a loser”.  Period.  The point is that I used to be quite hard on myself and use harmful labels to further beat myself up.  (not anymore though, yay 2014)

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.

This again was more in my twenties, I am more prone to bend down to someone else to have them still like me.

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.

I give and give and give and no one appreciates me.  Something like that.  I may have some guilt on this!

So folks, these are cognitive distortions.  I thought I’d think more of general things but I guess this just showed how distorted my thoughts were with putting too much on one friendship.  When we put too much of our self worth, we end up being mother fucking crazy.  I didn’t see it at the time but it’s so clear now.  Now I can look at these distortions through how I beat myself up and stand in my own way to achieving my goals.  This means listening to Josh and my therapist and my friends to when I may be using distortions.  This means hearing things I don’t want to hear and having people be honest with me.  Calling out the people we on these distortions are the only way we can grow and move forward.  Yay to learning, yay to application of this learning and yay to balance and health.

All my relations,


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