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Old 07-23-2009, 03:24 PM
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Book 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

Here are the basic distortions. They aren't a "therapy" to use and then forget... but habits of thinking that we need to "check' ourselves on for "life." Following this is a list of how to "untwist" such thinking. Good wishes!











1) You see things in black or white categories. If your effort or performance falls short of "perfect" you see yourself as a total failure. This "either-or" thinking habit may result in self-recrimination or anxiety.

2) You view a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. For example, you think that a friends' inconsiderate response means that there is no caring for you, even when there have been other examples of consideration.

3) You pick out single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your perception becomes distorted. For example, a person focuses on one negative comment and ignores any of more neutral or positive feedback.

4) You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or another. In this way, you maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences. For instance, you don't believe a compliment because you think it is said just to be nice.

5) You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts to support your conclusion.
a.) MIND READING You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and don't bother to check it out. "I just know he/she thought I was an idiot." even though he/she acted nicely.

b) THE FORTUNE TELLER ERROR: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel that, "I just know I am not going to get the job I want."

6) You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else's achievement) or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desireable qualities or the other person's imperfections.)

7) You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."

8) You try to motivate yourself with "should" and "shouldn't" , as if you have to be whippped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also issues. The emotional result is feeling guilty.

9) This is an extreme example of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser."

10.) You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which in fact you were not primarily responsible.

*adapted from Burns


This comes from Dr David Burns and is in his book "The Feeling Good Handbook, revised edition."

Write down your negative thoughts so you can see in which of the 10 cognitive distortions you're involved. This will make it easier to think about the problem in a more positive and realistic way.

2 EXAMINE THE EVIDENCE Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.

3 THE DOUBLE-STANDARD METHOD Instead of putting yourself down in a harsh, condemning way, talk to yourself in the same
compassionate way you would talk to a friend with a similar problem.

4 THE EXPERIMENTAL TECHNIQUE Do an experiment to test the validity of your negative thought. For example, if, during an episode of panic, you become terrified that you're about to die of a heart attack, you could jog or run up and down several flights of stairs. This will prove that your heart is healthy and strong.

5 THINKING IN SHADES OF GRAY Although this method might sound drab, the effects can be illuminating. Instead of thinking about your problems in all-or-nothing extremes, reevaluate things on a range from 0 to 100. When things don't work out as well as you hoped, think about the experience as a partial success rather than a complete falure. See what you can learn from the situation.

Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and attitudes are realistic. For example, if you believe that public speaking anxiety is abnormal and shameful, ask several friends if they ever felt nervous before they gave a talk.

7. DEFINE TERMS When you label yourself "inferior" or "a fool" or "a loser," ask, "What is the definition of 'a fool'?" You will feel better when you see that there is no such thing as "a fool" or "a loser."

8. THE SEMANTIC METHOD Simply substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded. This method is helpful for "should statements." Instead of telling yourself "I shouldn't have made that mistake," you can say, "It would be better if I hadn't made that mistake."

9. RE-ATTRIBUTION Instead of automatically assuming that you are "bad" and blaming yourself entirely for a problem, think about the many factors that may have contributed to it. Focus on solving the problem instead of using up all your energy blaming yourself and feeling guilty.

10. COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS List the advantages and disadvantages of a feeling (like becoming angry when your plane is late,) a negative thought (like "No matter how hard I try, I always mess up, ") or a behavior pattern (like overeating and lying around in bed when you're depressed.) You can also use the Cost-Benefit Analysis to modify a self-defeating belief such as, "I must always try to be perfect."

As I've stated before, these methods are not something to be tried once or twice and dispensed, but are good skills to be ongoing in your life with day to day checking and adjusting. Good wishes! drjean

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