The Cognitive Triad and Cognitive Distortion Part 2: by Dr. Ben Alpert
In our last blog (Click here to read if you missed it) we found ourselves in math class and for some reason our friend wasn’t talking to us. We didn’t know why and so instead of just paying attention in class and then calmly asking them afterwards we tried to figure out what was wrong without any facts. We thought they might be angry at us, that we might have done something wrong or that something bad might have happened. Having these thoughts then led to a shift in our mood, now by creating those thoughts, we may be experiencing anxiety and depressive symptoms. Eventually these thoughts and feelings might lead to a fight with our friend or perhaps we may hold a grudge or stop talking to them altogether, simply because we created a false reality without any facts to support it. This false reality is called Cognitive Distortion.
Humans are psychologically lazy and so we put together bits and pieces of information without knowing the whole picture in order to save time. Sometimes this works out great, but without all of the pieces, this picture of reality becomes somewhat distorted or skewed and over time can lead to truly negative thoughts about ourselves and feeling intense emotions that start to control our lives. We become Mind Readers stating that we know what others are thinking and feeling without having any idea and so we become convinced that they have negative thoughts about us. We become Fortune Tellers, negatively predicting what the future holds and inhibiting our progress at work, school or in relationships and so we don’t try for that promotion or honors class or relationship.
Life hands us plenty of real problems and issues that we have to deal with, adding this extra layer of distorted stress and pain certainly doesn’t help any of that. Exploring these distortions places emphasis on facts rather than guessing what might be facts. It’s hard, but if we jump back to that classroom desk, we can say to ourselves, “I am not sure what is going on right now, but let’s focus on math and I can speak to my friend afterwards to find out what is going on”. Another great example of this in all of our lives is if we text someone and they don’t immediately text back. Maybe you did something wrong maybe not, but spiraling into depression and anxiety is not the answer and learning how to communicate without jumping to conclusions solves the majority of these dilemmas. If we simply change the first thought from negative to positive or even just neutral, we prevent the intense negative emotion and we stop the negative behaviors.
Deconstructing and limiting cognitive distortions is a difficult process but attending therapy can provide you with the skills to analyze your thoughts and feelings leading to diminished depression and anxiety as well as significantly less couple and familial discord. We will be happy to help you on this journey!
Burns, D. D. (1999). The feeling good handbook. New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Plume.
Greenberger, D., & Padesky, C. A. (2016). Mind over mood: change how you feel by changing the way you think. Second edition. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.