Thought Distortions

Thought Distortions are ways our automatic thoughts can become more maladaptive over time. They are common because our brains are, for the most part, very similar to each others, and share some common shortcuts and pathways. Some thought distortions that have been found to be common in the literature about CBT (and in the clients we work with) are: 

  •  All-or-nothing Thinking: a tendency to think only in absolutes.  This is sometimes called “black and white thinking”, and is what happens when people think that they will never get something right. 
  • Jumping to Conclusions: a tendency to make a decision about something based on limited evidence. This is what happens when someone thinks they have upset a friend who might not reply to a call or text message right away. 
  • Catastrophizing: a tendency to see the outcome of every situation as a catastrophe. This is what happens when my mother burns the turkey and thinks she ruined Christmas (In case my mother is reading this – this is a hypothetical example). 
  • Emotional Reasoning: a tendency to interpret emotions as realities. This is what happens when someone feels bad about something, and then interprets that as meaning they are a bad person. 
  • Focus on the Negative: a tendency to disregard positive things and only focus on negative things. This is what happens when, at the end of a work day, someone focuses only on that one embarrassing thing they said in a meeting. 
There are many other thought distortions other than what are in this list. What they all have in common is that they are the product of our primitive nervous system producing a maladaptive thought, and then our brain learning this shortcut over time. This can lead to a diminished sense of self-worth, depression, anxiety, and contribute to many other mental health conditions. So, recognizing them, and ultimately re-training them, is an inexpensive way to promote positive mental health, and is what the homework for this week will focus on. 

Judging Automatic Thoughts

This week’s exercise will involve an expansion of last week’s work on recognizing automatic thoughts. Now, we’re going to recognize these thoughts, but also identify the type of thinking that leads to this thought, and see if there is enough evidence to support it or not.