Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Distorted thoughts are at play and can hijack your thinking patterns and limits you from finding inner peace.
What Are Distorted Thought Patterns?
Distorted thoughts are thoughts that are disconnected and different from reality. They are thoughts you tell yourself to cope with adverse life experiences and avoid reality. In other words, these thinking traps feed your irrational fears and give you a negative interpretation of how life works. Here are some examples of distorted thought patterns.
Expanding and shrinking: In this thinking pattern, your mind exaggerates the negatives and minimises the positives. For instance, when faced with a challenging task, you may think, “It’s impossible to solve this problem. Nobody can do it.” The truth is that a few people in your team might have been able to do it, but you dismiss it as impossible and therefore, avoid doing it and won’t even try. In another example, you may receive a compliment from a work colleague. You will shrink your efforts as ‘just O.K.', and convince yourself that your colleague is only polite.
Filtering: This is when your mind filters out positive information and feedback and focusses only on the negative details. For instance, you may receive three good appraisals on your performance, and one low comment. You may use a mental filter and only consider the one bad feedback exclusively, which will lead you to view yourself and your reality darkly and gloomily. You will feel disappointed and anxious about yourself. This is a distorted evaluation as you ignore the positive details and think you are a failure.
Dismissing evidence: If you think like this, your mind discards evidence that may challenge its negative story. For instance, you are preparing for an exam and are worried that the lessons you skipped might end up in the paper. Your thinking process dismisses the fact that the missed classes only constitute a small fraction of the year's work and are likely to form a small percentage of the exam. Instead, you fear, irrationally, and without evidence, that will rigorously test the missed lessons.
Generalising: This occurs when you look at a single, unpleasant incident and decide that this event represents a general, unrelenting trend. For instance, you tell your friends that they are never there for you when, in truth, this only happened once, and the rest of the time they have been caring people. You are also generalising when you say "I am a stupid idiot!" when the reality is that you made one silly mistake. Generalising can lead us to feel that all of life is negative, which feeds into our anxiety.
Presumption: If you think that you know what another person is thinking. Then you jump to a negative conclusion about it, and you are making a 'mind-reading error'. For example, you believe that people laugh at you and presume that it is because of your new haircut. You then treat this presumption as fact, without first confirming your interpretation with the people involved. This can lead you to feel bad about yourself and become anxious in social situations.
Emotional Reasoning: This thinking pattern takes the way you feel and convinces you that this is the way you are; this is the reality. It is like reasoning through feelings rather than through logical thoughts. For instance, if you're afraid of something, it must be dangerous for you. If you don't like working on your anxiety, then you believe that you cannot overcome it and therefore must settle with it. Emotions are short-lived responses to external stimuli and do not define who you are.
Unreliable forecasting: If you display this cognitive distortion, you assume that negative thought will manifest into reality. For example, you fear driving, and so you convince yourself that you're likely to meet with an accident if you drive; for this reason, you avoid driving and limit yourself.
Look at these and try to see what thinking patterns you use each day. I like to use a tracker with clients in practice, to help with these distorted thinking patterns. Write them down on a tracker (piece of paper). Once you become aware of the thinking processes you use, you can then start to make subtle changes to your thinking habits. Self awareness is the key.