As we get older and wiser, our thinking styles begin to take permanent shape. Ways of perceiving events and coping styles are often aimed at preserving our self-image. These "ways" are learned over one's lifetime via observation and experience. Sometimes we develop distorted cognitive processes which skew our perception of the world and cause unnecessary distress.
Here are the common cognitive distortions that could be harming your mental health:
- All-or-nothing Thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
- Overgeneralization: One negative event is seen as a possibly never-ending sea of negativity. eg- I screwed up the client meeting and thus all future client meetings are going to fail.
- Jumping to conclusions: One makes negative interpretations based on faulty interpretations and random thoughts. Eg. He dints wave back at me, he does not like me anymore.
- Magnification or Minimization: You attribute unwarranted importance to certain things while ignoring certain other contradictory things which are of equal importance. e.g. I've not scored any runs in the past 3 matches, I must really suck at batting. Ignoring the fact that you have scored 5 centuries in the past 5 months.
- Should Statements: Life is defined by shoulds and shouldn't and when you "cannot", the emotional consequence is guilt. Sometimes should statements are directed toward others, leading to anger, frustration and disappointment. eg. "If my husband loved me, he should take that day off" or "If I am to get anywhere in life I should spend all my time studying."
- Labelling: This is an exaggerated form of over generalization. Labels can be attached to oneself or others. eg "I suck" or "He is such a loser"
- Personalization: One takes undue responsibility for a negative external event, which in fact one isn't primarily responsible for. eg. Ria failed her math test because I fell ill.
- Black and white thinking: An event is either right or wrong. There is no in-between. This is closely associated with should statements. eg I failed to make a million dollars this month, I am a total failure.
- Mental Filter: A single negative detail colours one's perception of the world. Like wearing coloured sunglasses.
Initially described as distortions in thinking among those who were depressed, it is easy to see how these distortions can have a negative impact on life. A number of scientifically proven therapies have been formulated aimed at correcting distortions, mindfulness being one of them.
Being consciously aware of your thoughts gives you better control over your actions. And well-grounded actions can change the way you live!
Did you identify any of these in yourself or your friends? What are you going to do about it?