Rational thinking is not always as easy as it seems. The truth is, we all have distorted thoughts in one way or another. If you don’t think you do, guess what? That is one of your distorted thoughts!
Distorted thinking come from “logical errors” we make in our thoughts about ourselves, others, and the world. Often, we aren’t aware of the logical errors we make. There are lots of examples we could give. This post is a little different from my usual. I thought this list of 14 distortions would be helpful. Take a look at your own thought patterns and see which ones you tend to make.
Filtering happens when take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their perception of reality becomes distorted. For example, let’s say you were late on a project at work. Your supervisor is upset with you. You then construct the distorted thought that your supervisor does not like you based on that one interaction. This type of thinking filters out all of the times you and your supervisor got along well, went to lunch, and other things
Polarized or Black and White Thinking
In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure. There is no middle ground. We place people or situations into either/or categories. In this type of thinking, there are no shades of gray. For example, my son used to get really bummed out and see himself as a failure if he ranked second in a karate tournament. Obviously, a silver medal is not failure.
In this distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat. For example, I may hold on to the distorted thought that life will always be bad for me because I had a flat tire and a dead battery on two consecutive days.
Jumping to Conclusions
Without individuals saying so, we think we know what others are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we believe we can determine how people are feeling toward us. For example, I might conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward me but not bother to find out if it is true. Another example is a person may anticipate that bad things are going to happen when there is no evidence of it.
Sometimes we expect disasters. I have a friend who tends to do this. Another name for this is worst-case-scenario thinking. When snow came recently, she seemingly saw herself running into a cliff and going up in flames although she hadn’t even left her house!
Personalization is a distortion where we believe that everything others do or say is some kind of personal reaction to us. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, more talented, or other desirable characteristic. We might also see ourselves as responsible for some external event that had nothing to do with us. For example, if I had been standing closer to my daughter, she would not have fallen.
If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as a victim of circumstances. For example, “I can’t help it if my work isn’t getting done. There is too much to do.” If we have high internal control we assume responsibility for the happiness or sadness of others. For example, if someone is unhappy, we might assume we caused their unhappiness.
Fallacy of Fairness
Believing that things should be fair leads to resentment. We can go through life with a measuring stick trying to determine what should or shouldn’t be based on what we believe to be “fair.” Our measure fairness may be totally different from others.
We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. For example, “Stop making me feel bad!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way. No one can make us do anything (for the most part). We have control over our own emotions and behavior.
We have a list of rules about how others and we should behave. We get angry when others break these rules and we feel guilty when we do. The problem is defining who gets to set up these ironclad, inflexible rules. Are your rules the right ones? What about mine? What about the other person over there who doesn’t know either of us?
We believe that what we feel must be true. If I feel stupid, then I must be stupid. If I feel boring, then I must be boring.
Fallacy of Others’ Change
If I nag, coerce, threaten, or cajole a person long enough, he or she will change and I will be happy. There are two problems with this distortion. First, I can only change myself. Second, my happiness never depends on another person.
We label when we generalize an exaggerated quality and apply it to the person. For example, doing poorly on an exam gets exaggerated to, “I am a loser – a total failure.” It may have to do with others with something like, “He’s a jerk,” when someone was having a bad day. Labeling not only affects the way we see things right now, but it changes how we see things for the future.
Always Being Right
We believe we are always in a debate to prove ourselves correct. Just take a look at political talk, posts, tweets, etc. Everyone is right in their own eyes. One problem with this distortion is that opinions differ and many cannot actually be proven in the first place. The most significant problem is feeling that we are less than others, looked down upon, or somehow disrespected when others disagree with us. The only way to not have someone disagree with you is to never say anything, so lighten up!
Hopefully you were able to identify some of your own distorted thoughts. There are a lot more we could list, but this list of 14 should at least get you thinking about it. Trust me, we all have them. Identify your distorted thoughts and go ahead and challenge them with reality. You might be surprised by what you learn.