The 8 Types Of Cognitive Distortions

What kinds of cognitive distortions exist and how do they fool us?

We have known for a long time that it is not the events themselves that trigger our emotions but the interpretation we make about them. That is, how we perceive them and how we interpret them.

Behind every feeling of  sadness, anger,  fear or anguish there may be a thought that is hiding or disguising reality. That is why in certain disorders such as depression ,  anxiety or  phobias ,  cognitive distortions play a main role. 

In this article we will explain which are the most frequent types of cognitive distortions and what each one of them consists of.

Tricks of the brain and cognitive distortions

Therefore, it is vitally important to stop and think about the validity of these thoughts, since we could be suffering from unrealistic causes.

The human mind is very complex and sometimes we get lost in it and we are not able to differentiate reality from fiction.

What are cognitive distortions and how do they affect us?

Cognitive distortions are erroneous interpretations of reality that lead the individual to perceive the world in a not very objective way, as well as dysfunctional. They appear in the form of automatic thoughts and trigger negative emotions that lead to unwanted or maladaptive behaviors.

In this way, a loop is generated, because these dysfunctional behaviors end up reinforcing the cognitive schemes that generated them, so that the dynamics is maintained or even intensified.

Characteristics of cognitive distortions

  • They are often expressed in terms of categorical imperatives: “I should”, “I should”, “I must …”.
  • They are experienced as spontaneous, they appear suddenly in the mind without any apparent trigger.
  • They are short, specific and unobtrusive messages and are often presented in the form of a visual image.
  • They tend to be dramatic and catastrophic.
  • They are difficult to divert.
  • They are learned.

Types of cognitive distortions, and examples

There are a large number of cognitive errors that people fall into over and over again. Below I will describe some of the most frequent, with an example to make it easier to understand.

These are the types of cognitive distortions.

1. Overgeneralization

Following an isolated case, generalize a valid conclusion for everything. Example: “Juan hasn’t written to me, people always forget about me.”

2. Selective abstraction

Focusing in “tunnel vision” mode only on certain aspects, usually negative and disturbing, of a circumstance or person, excluding the rest of their characteristics and ignoring the positive of them. Example: “I’ve gone too far with the salt in my macaroni, I’m a horrible cook.”

3. Arbitrary inference

Make judgments or draw conclusions quickly or impulsively, based on incomplete or erroneous information. Example: “he tells me not to be tough, women are like that.”

4. Confirmatory bias

Tendency to interpret reality in a way that confirms our previous beliefs. Example: “I was wrong, if I already knew that I am not good for this.”

5. Fallacy of divine reward

Thinking that in the future problems will improve by themselves without taking a proactive attitude. Example: “my boss is exploiting me, but I am calm because time puts everyone in their place.”

6. Thought reading

Assume the intentions or cognitions of others. Example: “they look at me because I’m making a fool of myself.”

7. Fortune Teller’s Error

Believe you know what the future will be like and act accordingly. Example: “I am not going to go to that job interview because I know they will not hire me.”

8. Personalization

Suppose that everything people do or say has to do directly with oneself. Example: “Marta has a bad face, she must be angry with me.”

How to end cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions can be modified once they have been detected.

There are techniques in psychotherapy that directly affect this type of distortion, and they are called cognitive restructuring techniques. In them, the professional helps the individual to identify the erroneous beliefs that they have developed towards the world, and later both work together to develop thoughts and alternative ways of interpreting situations.

Thus,  the psychologist helps the person learn to question the validity of their own cognitive schemes and replace them with more realistic alternative thoughts, which will make them feel more positive emotions and therefore will be favorable when it comes to having more useful behaviors to live in greater harmony with its surroundings. 

Bibliographic references:

  • Gadenne, V. (2006). Philosophy of psychology. Spain: Herder.
  • Jung, Carl Gustav (2003). Symbology of the spirit. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
  • Triglia, Adrián; Regader, Bertrand; García-Allen, Jonathan (2016). Psychologically speaking. Paidos. 
  • Vidales, Ismael (2004). General psychology. Mexico: Limusa.

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