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Hilber Psychological Services

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Posts tagged Cognitive Distortion
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.

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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!

Be well,

Dr. Ben Alpert

To discuss this and other issues or behaviors in detail, contact us at Hilber Psychological Services. And if you want to read previous posts about cognitive distortion, click here

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.

The Cognitive Triad and Cognitive Distortion Part 1: by Dr. Ben Alpert

During the first therapy session, I like to teach patients about the different styles of therapy that might help them depending on their specific problem or issue. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is an orientation based on the Cognitive Triad, the connection between Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors. Patients usually nod their heads at this psychology jargon stating that they grasp the basic concepts but in order to help connect it to their real lives, I introduce the following scenario:

Imagine you’re in high school and sitting in the front row of math class. There is one empty seat next to you and the minute before the bell rings for class to start, your best friend sits down next to you. You say “Hey, what’s up!” and your friend doesn’t respond and doesn’t even look at you. Class begins and the teacher is standing right in front of you so you can’t talk, text or pass notes until class is over. Why didn’t your friend respond? What are you thinking? What emotions are you feeling? What physical reactions occur in your body? How are you behaving in the moment? How will you act after class?

Your answer to all of these questions will depend on your specific personality characteristics, life experiences and perhaps on the psychological issues (anxiety, depression, PTSD, low self-esteem, relationship conflict) you may be struggling with. Your brain starts moving at a mile a minute to figure it all out.

Let’s break this math class situation down because it’s sometimes hard to differentiate between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Thoughts: Why didn’t my friend talk to me? What did I do wrong? Are they angry at me? Did I say or do something that made them angry or upset? Let’s replay every conversation I have had with them over the past week or month or year or decade. This may take a while. Was it that joke I told? Maybe they took it the wrong way? Did I forget their birthday or to call them back? Did they think I was trying to hit on someone they liked? Did I not wear pink on pink day last week? Are they still angry that I borrowed their favorite stuffed animal when we were 5 and I never gave it back? I always do these things, nobody will ever like me. Wait, maybe something terrible happened to my friend, maybe someone died, who could it be, oh this is terrible. Your mind will continue to jump from place to place struggling to figure out what might be occurring.

Wow, all of those intense thoughts have now led to a whirlwind of emotions.

Moods/Emotions/Feelings: I am so anxious about all of the things I might have done or might have happened. I feel super depressed because my friendship may be over. I am so angry at them for feeling this way about me.

These emotions are so strong, I can feel them physically.

Physical Reactions: I may throw up, my heart is racing, my lungs feel heavy, I am sweating, I am shaking.

Now that I am experiencing all of these physical changes, I can’t just let it go, I am going to do or say something at the end of class.

Behaviors/Actions: In the moment: Lack of focus on math. After class: I am too scared to talk to my friend, maybe I’ll just walk out of class without talking to them (this may lead to a rift in your relationship). I am going to yell at my friend or say the meanest things I can to them for not talking to me because I am certain that they are angry at me so I am going to attack first. Let me come up with that list of meanest things now so I will be ready. Perhaps you bad mouth your friend behind their back or tell others that you are angry or upset with this friend for what they did which could lead to the destruction of your friendship or their friendships with others. Some of these may seem like extreme reactions but they happen all the time.

Gosh, that’s a lot of stuff going on in terms of possible thoughts, feelings, physical reactions and behaviors! Now what if I told you that your friend was just super tired because they stayed up late watching a movie, they barely got any sleep and they didn’t even hear you say hello. You have just spent the last 45 minutes creating countless scenarios of what you may have done wrong, you are possibly highly anxious, super depressed or incredibly angry, you made yourself physically ill, you may hurt or destroy your friendship with your behaviors afterwards by separating or retaliating, oh and you didn’t learn any math so you might fail the next test all because you created a false reality in your head. Learning how to stop this spiral is crucial in learning how to better our relationships and also manage stress, anxiety and depression.

In part two we will discuss why this happens and what to do to stop ourselves from getting caught in negative thought spirals. Check it out here: Part Two

Be well,

Dr. Ben Alpert :-)

To discuss this and other issues or behaviors in detail, contact us at Hilber Psychological Services. To read more about cognitive distortion, feel free to click on this additional blog post.

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.