Here are 3 irrational beliefs (cognitive distortions) that we need to watch out for and fix since they can lead to lower self-esteem and harm our everyday interactions.
Always being right – When an individual often puts on a trial other people’s opinions and actions to prove that they are right. They struggle with the irrational belief that being wrong is unacceptable, and they go to any length to validate their argument.
What to do: Practice the Cost-Benefit Analysis Technique to list the advantages and disadvantages of this behavior. Ask yourself how it makes you feel and what you are gaining with an inappropriate attitude. This method examines the underlying motivation, which encourages you to be sensitive and attuned with your noble intentions. In other words, the practice improves emotional intelligence, which plays an important role in our interpersonal relationships.
Personalization involves taking everything personally or blaming yourself or someone else for an issue that was out of control, and a variety of factors played a role in it. This distortion also drives the person to compare himself to others to establish who is smart or attractive.
What to do:
- Stop recounting the problem repeatedly to yourself or others so that the toxic emotions are not reinforced—question what part you played in the issue’s outcome.
- Change the pattern, view error as an opportunity for self-improvement rather than failure—question what role you played in the problem’s outcome.
- Be mindful of your tendency to taking things personally and blaming others.
- Do recognize that everyone has their own struggles and life story.
Emotional Reasoning is when you are looking for external causes for your feelings. For instance: “I am anxious, so I must be in danger.” “I feel judged; this means that people are judging me.”
What to do:
- Apply Double Standard Technique; instead of beating up on yourself mercilessly, pretend that you are talking to a friend with the same problem. Naturally, you will be more caring and practical. Try the same approach be a friend to yourself.
- Practice Socratic Method: question to expose contradictions in your thoughts and ideas. Put yourself in the hot seat and find holes in your beliefs. Under pressure with critical thinking, reasoning, and logic, you will notice how a change in facts can change your perspective.
Hopefully, this piece and the previous posts have given you a solid understanding of irrational thoughts based on hidden assumptions that we can all experience at one time or another. Whether you are struggling with mental health or not, it helps evaluate our thinking patterns now and then. Yes, the introspection, either by tackling your own struggles or seeking out CBT Therapy, is extremely valuable. It helps us live a productive life by patching up the negativity and building resilience.
Artwork by Maja Borowicz
The truth is that the universe naturally shapes our lives through different disruptions. Along the way, different events and individuals will challenge us and push us to unfavorable situations. And the changes will affect how we feel about ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we behave. Problems can trigger irrational beliefs called cognitive distortions. Here are another set of 3 irrational beliefs to be aware of:
Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization – It consists of making a mountain out of a molehill. Or, on the flip side, downplaying the significance of an event or an emotion.
A Magnification example is when an individual thinks that something catastrophic such as suffering a fatal heart attack, will happen. Or when athletes believe that they are inadequate team players because of a mistake.
A Minimization example is when you receive a raise, and you still feel not very good at your job.”
What to do:
- In both cases, write down your concern in detail, put into words your emotions, and challenge them.
- Consider a core principle of Stoicism: “Some things are in our control and others not.” Such as sudden heart attack, illness, traffic, not being able to score a goal, the list goes on.
- Remind yourself the validity of your emotions is reflections of your thoughts.
- Keep in mind what you can control is your response and your actions.
- Challenge your opinion with facts.
Should Statements – the tendency to impose a set of unrealistic or non-viable expectations for yourself or others. The should, ought or must statements indicate obligations that we cling on to, and generally, we get angry if they do not meet our expectations.
What to do:
- Stop evaluating yourself and others based on statements that signal control and rarely make sense.
- Adjust your statements to express your preferences, and, alternatively, acceptance of reality is sensible. This way, you are acknowledging that sometimes things are not how we like them to be! Hence, the situation will be less infuriating, and your response will be more sound. For instance, when someone’s actions are misaligned with your expectations, the statement can be expressed: “I prefer if you were more considerate,…”
Labeling and Mislabeling – When you reduce yourself or others based on one characteristic or an incident, basically overgeneralizing a situation, a habit, or a trait with hurtful and emotionally loaded description. For instance: “I failed my exam; I am stupid.”
What to do:
- Write down your thoughts and the language you have used to express your sentiments.
- Recognize the double-standard method you used to communicate your feelings and the lack of compassion or a kinder behavior bestowed on a friend.
- Practice thinking in shades of grey by rating how you feel on a scale of worst to the best. You will notice that many incidents or actions are not as extreme as we label them.
- Define what does it mean to be a failure or insecure or any undesired labels?
- Revisit the labels that you have applied to yourself and others. Talk to yourself like a friend.
Remember that not everyone can reduce or treat cognitive distortions by itself. At times, therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is the best way to learn about coping strategies to deal with challenges.
Artwork by Antonio Mora
Most likely, as humans, you have experienced numerous cognitive distortions at one time or another. In the previous post, I highlighted 3 tendencies out of 11 cognitive distortions, and here is another 3 flawed pattern of thinking which are significant in our interactions and relationships. Once you are aware, you can improve and modify the faulty beliefs with practice.
Mental Filter – The mental filter distortion happens when an individual allows a single negative piece of information to overshadow and exclude the positive ones. For instance, when someone focuses on an unfavorable comment or incident and dwells on it while ignoring all positive remarks or experiences.
What to do: Write down the negative thought, challenge it, and reframe the thinking to a positive and realistic one. And remember that a negative situation does not remain negative forever.
Disqualifying the Positive – This distortion involves the rejection of positive statements or events by insisting that they are a fluke or argue against it: “that doesn’t count.”
For example, when someone is praised for a trait or a work, the receiver ignores it and disqualifies the comment based on “they are just nice.”
What to do: The best way to start managing these inaccurate thoughts is to practice receiving compliments and feedback with a simple: ‘Thank you”.
Jumping to conclusions:
- Mind reading variant – it refers to inaccurate beliefs and negative interpretations based on assumptions. We might have an idea of what other people are thinking, however jumping to conclusions without justification by the facts is wrong. For example, you meet an unfriendly or bad-tempered person, and you automatically take it personally or think that they have bad intentions.
- Fortune telling variant – in this case, we imagine and predict horrible things will happen to us. Of course, we all feel anxious to some extent if a loved one is late and does not pick up the phone.
What to do:
- Slow down and actively ask yourself whether your assumptions make sense and are based on valid reasoning or available evidence.
- In both cases, Mind reading or Fortune telling, for you to remain calm, it is best to balance out by thinking about the two extremes, the negative thoughts, and the possible best outcome of any given situation. This way, you likely feel better.
Featured image by Lucio Carvalho
Generally, our brains are wired to control our thoughts and make connections to find solutions to our problems. However, some of these connections are not true or non-helpful since they are based on faulty patterns or biased perspectives on ourselves and the world around us.
These cognitive distortions are often hard to recognize as they have been reinforced as part of our daily thoughts. Even though they come in many forms, irrational beliefs share a commonality, such as a pattern of thinking; they are flawed and potentially damage our mental well-being.
Here are 3 tendencies out of 11 that we will explore in this post:
The fallacy of change – It involves two different but related beliefs that are damaging and inaccurate:
- For instance, being helpless and a victim of fate: “the quality of the report was mediocre since my manager gave me a brief the other day.
- Being in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, hence feeling responsible for the pain and happiness of those around us. For instance: “Are you sad because of me?”
Remind yourself that complete control is faulty reasoning since no one has absolute control over their situation or other people. Even in a crisis, you might not choose what you do or where you go, but you certainly have a choice over how you mentally approach the event.
Polarized thinking or black and white thinking is irrational thinking characterized by the “all or nothing” principle. These individuals tend to think in extremes, which are either impressive or terrible, and have unrealistic expectations. They are often easily annoyed, feel bitter, and disappointed due to their inability or unwillingness to see gray shades. For instance: an extremely competitive person believes that he/she should be “number one or nothing at all.”
Overgeneralization – This is when you use excessive language in your assessment of people or events. For instance, when you are in a hurry and other drivers are not moving fast enough or are stopped by red lights. So you start generalizing this event to an overall pattern. In this example, the individual’s focus is only on red lights! Or you have failed an exam, and you decide that you are stupid or a failure. The way you evaluate your situation and the language you use matters since you will respond to the pattern instead of just that particular event.
Being aware of your predispositions will help you improve your ways of thinking and mental health. To start, notice how you talk to yourself and examine your assumptions. Identify harmful beliefs and challenge them.
Featured Artwork by Jeffrey Dirkse