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Categories of Distorted Automatic Thoughts 17

Lucia Merino, LCSW Bilingual Psychological Services
Lucia Merino, LCSW Bilingual Psychological Services
Lucia Merino, LCSW Bilingual Psychological ServicesPsychotherapist in Private Practice

Categories of Distorted Automatic Thoughts: A guide for patients. Adapted from Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders by Robert L Leahy and Stephen J. Holland. Copyright 2000 granted.

Categories of Distorted Automatic Thoughts 17

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Cognitive Distortions




     Lucia Merino, LCSW
         March 2012
Identify Your Distortions

• Monitor your thoughts, and simply notice
  when you are engaging in thought
  distortions.
Cognitive Distortion 1
• Mind reading: Assuming that you know what people
  think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts.
  “He thinks I am a loser.” “She thinks that because I am a
  minority, I don’t know what I am talking about.”
Which one next?
Cognitive Distortion 2
• Fortunetelling: Predicting the future negatively: Things
  will get worse, or there is danger ahead. “I will make a
  full of myself in that presentation.”
Cognitive Distortion 3
• Catastrophizing: Believing that what has happened or
  will happen will be so awful and unbearable that you
  won’t be able to stand it. “I will never recover from my
  childhood trauma.”

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Categories of Distorted Automatic Thoughts 17

  • 1. Cognitive Distortions Lucia Merino, LCSW March 2012
  • 2. Identify Your Distortions • Monitor your thoughts, and simply notice when you are engaging in thought distortions.
  • 3. Cognitive Distortion 1 • Mind reading: Assuming that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I am a loser.” “She thinks that because I am a minority, I don’t know what I am talking about.”
  • 5. Cognitive Distortion 2 • Fortunetelling: Predicting the future negatively: Things will get worse, or there is danger ahead. “I will make a full of myself in that presentation.”
  • 6. Cognitive Distortion 3 • Catastrophizing: Believing that what has happened or will happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it. “I will never recover from my childhood trauma.”
  • 7. Cognitive Distortion 4 • Labeling: Assigning global negative traits. “I am unlovable” “He is a complete loser.”
  • 8. Cognitive Distortion 5 • Discounting the positives: Rejecting positive experiences by insisting they "don’t count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded. “Anybody can get a master’s degree.”
  • 9. Cognitive Distortion 6 • Negative filtering: Focusing mostly in the negative and seldom notice the positives. Focusing on what is lacking, instead of what one has. “Look at all the people who don’t like me,” “I have two sons, but I always wanted a baby girl.”
  • 10. Cognitive Distortion 7 • Overgeneralizing: Perceiving a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “Getting a low grade: this always happens to me.” I fail at everything I do.” “Dropping a class: I never complete anything I embark on. I always quit.”
  • 12. Cognitive Distortion 8 • Dichotomous thinking: Seeing events or people in all- or-nothing terms. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. Lovely evening on a date, but late to get her order in restaurant: “It was awful evening. I had to wait 30 minutes for my pizza!.”
  • 13. Cognitive Distortion 8 • Dichotomous Thinking:
  • 14. Cognitive Distortion 9 • Shoulds: Interpreting events in terms of how things should be (the way you hoped or expected them to be), rather than simply focusing on what is. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself: “I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.”
  • 15. Cognitive Distortion 10 • Personalizing: Attributing a disproportionate amount of the blame to yourself for negative events, and failing to see that certain events are also caused by others. Holding yourself responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. Child with difficulties in school: “This shows what a bad mother I am.”
  • 16. Cognitive Distortion 11 • Blaming: Focusing on the other person as the source of your negative feelings, and you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.”
  • 17. Cognitive Distortion 12 • Unfair comparisons: Interpreting events in terms of standards that are unrealistic –focusing primarily on others who do better than you and find yourself inferior in the comparison. “She has done much better than I have.”
  • 18. Cognitive Distortion 13 • Regret orientation: Focusing on the idea that you could have done better in the past, rather than on what you can do better now. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
  • 19. Cognitive Distortion14 • What if? Continuously asking a series of questions about “what if” something happens, and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers. “Yeah, but what if I get anxious?” “what if nobody can help me?”
  • 20. Cognitive Distortion 15 • Emotional reasoning: Letting your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be dangerous to fly." Or "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or "I feel angry. This proves I’m being treated unfairly." Or "I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second- rate person." Or "I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless.”
  • 21. Cognitive Distortion16 • Inability to disconfirm: Rejecting any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. When having the thought “I am unlovable,” you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Then, your thought cannot be refuted. “That is not the real issue. There are deeper problems. There are other factors.”
  • 22. Cognitive Distortion17 • Judgment Focus: You view yourself, others, and events in terms of evaluations as good-bad or superior-inferior, rather than simply describing, accepting, or understanding. You are continually measuring yourself and others according to arbitrary standards, and finding that you and others fall short. You are focused on the judgments of others as well as your own judgments of yourself. “I didn’t perform well in college,” or “If take up tennis, I won’t do well,” or “ Look how successful she is. I am not successful.”

Editor's Notes

  1. My husband’s example: “I go to the fridge to get some water and he thinks that I am going to get a piece of the chocolate cake –sneaking. Eating a piece of cake hiding in the kitchen.
  2. You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!"
  3. You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure.Supervisor not returning the call same day: “He is the worst supervisor. He never returns my calls.”
  4. You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts" and "have tos" are similar offenders."Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn’t be so stubborn and argumentative."Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn’t eat that doughnut." This usually doesn’t work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Alber Ellis has called this "musterbation." I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.
  5. Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I were better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me." Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy.Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back into your lap. It’s like the game of hot potato – no one wants to get stuck with it.
  6. Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back into your lap. It’s like the game of hot potato – no one wants to get stuck with it.
  7. You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be dangerous to fly." Or "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or "I feel angry. This proves I’m being treated unfairly." Or "I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second-rate person." Or "I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless."