Cognitive distortions are basically thinking patterns that are not necessarily based on an objective interpretation of our environment. These biased interpretations, which have been reinforced over a lifetime, often lead to negative thoughts and emotions. We can imagine distortions as a pair of glasses. Each pair of glasses represents a different distortion through which we see our environment.
We will give examples of how to challenge these cognitive tendencies and use concrete examples to help you learn how to challenge them. Why discuss these tendencies? Because we all have them and they can have a negative impact on our relationships.
It doesn’t have to be All or Nothing!
So, have you ever heard someone using words like “always”, “every”, or “never”? Surely you have, because we all do it. These words are examples of BLACK or WHITE Thinking. They are black and white because they only leave two options, either we did something or we did not. However, few aspects of human behavior are absolute. No one is perfect, we all have strengths and areas to work on. No one is completely good or completely bad.
So, how can a tendency to think in black and white terms impact our relationships? let’s use an example that we see quite often at our clinic. Imagine if every time someone’s performance falls short of what you consider perfect; you see them as a total failure. If this is the case, then the other person will “always” be a failure in your eyes. This will reinforce a negative image of this person in your mind, which is not necessarily a fair assessment. What can potentially happen with this assessment in mind is that you will start to distance yourself from the person. On the other hand, if you treat them a failure, they will feel like a failure and in defense they will distance themselves from you.
Where is The Grey Zone?
There are many ways to challenge this tendency. However, one simple, yet very effective method that my clients use successfully is to ask the following question: “Has there ever been a time when it was NOT that way?” (as black or white thinking, does not allow exceptions, if even one exception can be found, then it’s no longer “black” or “white”). You can also ask yourself, “Never?” or “Always?” (Depending upon what you are thinking). For example, is it true that he “NEVER” washes the dishes? Is it true that she is “ALWAYS” late?
This is one of many thought distortions with a few basic examples of how to challenge it. Stay tuned for more!