Cognitive distortions: 7 ways the mind sabotages us
What are cognitive distortions and how can they affect us?
Self-esteem. One of the most used, treated and, consequently, manipulated concepts in the history of psychology.
The cognitive current (the one that includes "the mental" in the human equation) is the one that initiated the concept of self-esteem, defining it as the way (positive or negative) in which we value ourselves. And it is this same branch that defines self-esteem as a major contributor to mental health or the absence of it. With positive self-esteem, one is more likely to have more positive thoughts about the world and oneself, a more optimistic perception of the future, and a greater subjective sense of happiness.
However, self-esteem is not a factor fixed in our mind, something that does not change over time and does not depend on the situations we live. In fact, it can grow or shrink depending on something we know as cognitive distortions.
When self-esteem is low...
Self-esteem can give us the opportunity to feel good simply by being who we are. However, if self-esteem is negative the effects are reversed. It is not that it is responsible for the factors of these listed factors, but that it correlates with thoughts of the same valence, of the same sign so to speakof the same sign, so to speak. If we have a bad self-esteem, this will be both cause and consequence of negative thoughts and perceptions.
And it is in this vicious circle where cognitive distortions, irrational ideas and negative automatic thoughts hide. The triad of mental evilaccording to cognitive psychology. Briefly, we will define irrational ideas as beliefs that have no contact with reality and are harmful to ourselves. beliefs that have no contact with reality and that are harmful to ourselves (everyone must approve of my behavior, otherwise I'm worthless) and (everyone must approve of my behavior, otherwise I am worthless) and negative automatic thoughts as negative judgments in line with the former (he is not laughing at my joke; I am worthless). Cognitive distortions work by relying on these two elements to cause us to take a markedly biased view of what is happening.
Where do cognitive distortions hide?
If we pay attention to how cognitive distortions operate, we see that they are nothing more than the intermediate step between the two already described; the process or operation that our mind does to transform irrational belief into automatic negative thought.. That is, the way in which our own mind attacks us.
Let's take a general example to simplify things.
We wake up one day full of energy and start the routine circuit of shower, coffee and toast. Not that there's anything special about the process, but it feels really good. On the way to work we think about how close we are to that Section Manager position we've been striving for for months.
"I'm sure I'll get it, I deserve it," we think.we thought. What is our surprise when we arrive at work and find that next to our desk, our colleague's things have disappeared and are being transported to the vacant Section Manager's office? It has been given to him. It stings, but on the other hand, it's a colleague, and we are happy for him..
Quite a common situation, isn't it? Let's see what our mind would do if it followed the logic of some of the most damaging distortions.
Types of cognitive distortions
What are the main cognitive distortions? These are described below.
It consists in choosing a concrete fact, drawing a general rule from it and never checking this rule, so that it is always true.so that it is always true. Possibly "I will never be good enough for the job" is what we would think if we hypergeneralize when we do not get it.
We know we are hypergeneralizing when we use terms that are too absolute to be true: always, every, none, never, nobody, everyone.
2. Global designation
The mechanism would be the same as the previous one. With the same situation, the only thing our mind does differently is to give us a global label instead of a general rule.. So the thought would be: "I am a failure".
The moment we start employing clichés and stereotypes to our behavior in an insulting way, we should start to contemplate the possibility that we are falling into this cognitive distortion.
Through this type of cognitive distortions, the mind filters the lived reality by selecting some aspects and ignoring others.. In the example, we would focus on the loss of the job opportunity, and how useless we are, but overlook the fact that we can improve and the joy we feel for our partner.
We may worry about this distortion when we recurrently criticize ourselves for past issues, losses, injustices, or stupidity, or if these terms appear in criticisms.
4. Polarized thinking
If we had committed this distortion, the example given would have been based on a premise such as: "if I don't get the job now, my professional future is over". This is an absolutist way of thinking; black or white, with no option for gray..
Posing challenges, goals or realities with conditionals ("if not...") and opposing options ("either I get the job, or...") gives us the clue that we are using this distortion.
It consists of thinking in such a way that the blame for the bad things always falls on ourselves, which is different from the fact that we have to blame ourselves.This is different from whether or not we have real responsibility. Applied to the example, it would take the form of: "Of course, if I have done everything wrong, how stupid I have been for even dreaming about the job. I will apologize to Pedro in case he thought I was not happy for him".
A symptom of this cognitive distortion is to be continually apologizing. We feel really guilty about something in particular, and we ask for forgiveness compulsively.
It occurs in that situation in which we feel as if we are guilty or somehow related to all the problems in our environment. It is similar to self-accusation, only that monopolizes the reality of everyone around us, giving us the leading role..
In the example, the thought would be something like "I knew it. I knew the boss had it in for me for not keeping those clips. What I hadn't imagined was that he would ally with Pedro to exclude me".
7. Mind reading
As the name suggests, the error or distortion lies in assuming that we know what the other person thinks. assuming that we know what the other person thinks or feels about us.. What really happens is that we project onto others our own emotions; we assume that others will think or feel as we do.
Cognitive distortion is especially harmful in this case, because it consists of a constant real-time attack on self-esteem. Its form would be: "Sure, the boss doesn't like me. He thinks I'm not doing enough and that's why he's stuck with me".
The mind plays tricks on us. What can we do?
In short, while it is true that this knowledge about cognitive distortions is not exactly new, it is also true that it is not public knowledge. Today, in a world in which self-esteem has taken on a new digital dimension, it is necessary for all of us to emphasize those failings of the human mind, it is necessary for all of us to emphasize those failures that the human mind tends to make in tends to make when it comes to self-esteem. The existence of cognitive distortions is a sign that, although we may not realize it, there are processes that work silently within our body causing us to have a simplistic and sissified version of many issues.
Without going any further, the examples shown here are such a natural part of life that they are considered "ways of being" as if human beings were designed to complicate life. It is a fallacy to think that we have no choice but to resign ourselves to harming ourselves and not valuing ourselves as we deserve.
So we cannot forget our personal direction in our own lives, and ask ourselves the key question: What now? Will we let this remain a heavy reminder again, or will we choose to use these little bits of knowledge?
As always, the decision is up to each of us.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)