All human beings filter information and interactions through their own experience. We trust what our minds tell us because they’re wired to process information, warn us about danger, caution us, and help us read situations. The problem that arises out of this is that sometimes our minds veer too far into the negative and persuade us to believe information that is false. Our minds can respond with assumptions and biases that create what is known as “cognitive distortions.” Cognitive distortions are defined as lies that our minds convince us are true. These distortions can arise out of our experiences and are almost a learned behavior of the mind.
They can be seen as a method of self-preservation meant not to harm but to protect us. We then unknowingly seek to reinforce the distortion or falsehood, looking for behavior or clues to confirm it. These cognitive distortions can interfere with our lives and our daily interactions because they are false, or not entirely connected to reality. The difference between the average person and someone who struggled with depression, anxiety, or even a substance use disorder is the ability to recognize and correct these distortions of reality.
Common Cognitive Distortions
While there are truly innumerable ways an individual’s mind might negatively process information and reality, below are some common types of these distortions that most people experience.
- Personalizing: taking something personal that might not indeed be personal. An example of this is believing a situation is the result of your personal actions, such as hearing someone speak in an irritated tone, and assuming it was based on your actions.
- Catastrophising: worst-case scenario thinking. For example, believing that a disagreement with your partner must mean the end of a relationship or constructive criticism must mean you are performing poorly at work.
- All-or-nothing thinking: thinking that you must achieve the best or receive the worst. Having beliefs such as, “I must be the perfect partner or my partner will be unfaithful” or “I must get the best grade in the class or I am a failure” are examples of this.
- Thinking in “shoulds”: beliefs that one action should equate another. It could also be believing a self-generated idea of what something ought to look like, “I should be married by this age” or “I made a budget I should have more in savings by now.”.These ideas are usually not based on facts or evidence.
- Delusions: holding onto an idea despite clear evidence to the contrary. An example of this might be believing that you are terrible at your position despite evidence that you are doing well, such as promotions.
- Minimizing: choosing to take large events and make them small, believing that this will keep you from experiencing the full emotional impact. An example of this might be insisting that you weren’t a big part of someone’s life after they pass away, believing that minimizing the relationship will keep the emotional pain at bay.
- Overgeneralizing: taking a belief that might work in a specific situation and applying it across the board in all similar situations. One example would be believing that all men choose their partners based on their physical beauty after having a specific experience with a partner that was focused on looks.
- Failure to consider alternatives: coming up with an explanation for why something happened and failing to consider there might be alternative reasons for it.
Becoming Mindful of Distortions
When these distortions are repeatedly brought to mind and are then reinforced by seeking evidence to support them, they begin to more permanently alter the way we think and experience the world. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues often go hand in hand with cognitive distortions that remain unrecognized and worked through. People who struggle with substance use disorders often have these negative loops of information or cognitive distortions that are constantly playing on a tract in their minds. They might repeat the same behaviors over and over expecting the results might change, have a tendency to only seek the comfortable and familiar, or routinely blame others for situations they put themselves in.
The best way out of these distortions is to start with mindfulness, and the first step in mindfulness is awareness. If you feel you may be seeing things from the wrong perspective or struggling to see things as they really are, becoming aware by reading about the many different cognitive distortions is a good place to start. This is best done with the willingness and open-mindedness to see which of these distortions fits with your thinking.
If you have a mental health diagnosis or you are experiencing feelings of depression or struggling with substance use, it’s best to see a mental health professional. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a therapeutic tool that can help to rewire some of the most ingrained distortions to better match reality and to help avoid continuing to build them. 12-Step programs and the process outlined through the steps are helpful for many people at adjusting the long-held negative perspectives experienced by those that struggle with substance use disorders. It is possible to gain freedom from cognitive distortions in order to have a more healthy relationship with your thoughts and the world around you.
If you are mentally struggling with addiction and otherwise, you are not alone. Ashley Addiction Treatment believes that connection is the key to recovery, with treatment options focused on holistic, integrated, and compassionate care. Ashley utilizes a variety of treatment modalities to help aid you in healing. If you would like to speak to someone about our care options, please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.