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Old 07-23-2009, 03:24 PM   #1
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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
10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them
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Old 10-28-2009, 05:43 PM   #2
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Default Re: 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

Can I share all of this elsewhere in an attempt to help others?
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Old 12-11-2009, 09:15 AM   #3
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Default Re: 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

Thanks so much for this,

Would it be ok to print this off and take it into my psychotherapy group. I think it will help me and others in the group, I'd also like to show the staff too?

x x x x
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Old 12-12-2009, 10:56 PM   #4
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Default Re: 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

Yes, thanks.
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Old 02-04-2010, 02:26 PM   #5
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Default Re: 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

=\ but how can we tell if we are doing this? If we believe it to be true. It IS true for us. Sometimes I think that I just made up everybody that I talk to, and one day I am going to wake up.

Other times I think that it's possible for people to all be hired by some sort of government. I know this is irrational. But I am constantly checking to make sure that this isn't the case. Even now, I am typing while I look around the room to make sure that nobody is watching me type this.
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Old 06-19-2010, 07:01 PM   #6
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Default Re: 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

The advice given by Dr. Burns is good, overall, but as I was reading the part where he asks readers to define terms, I have a problem with the statement that there are no fools, or losers. I know many of both. I've been both, at times. Such statements are fine when you're telling your children similar things because you want to encourage them, but when you grow up and see the world as it is, you realize such statements are lies. Truth is sometimes ugly, like life. But remember, someone might be a fool, or a loser, now, but they can change. You don't have to let your past or present mistakes define your future. There's always hope, even when you can't see it. You can always change who you are, what you are. People may still look at you and remember your mistakes, but remember this: no one's perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Have the courage to overcome your mistakes. Even if you're a hundred years old and dying, one day, one moment, of change could make a difference in someone's life. Change can happen anytime, and making a difference in someone's life doesn't mean you need to do something monumental to make that difference. Small acts of kindness can have a great impact on someone. Change isn't necessarily hard, although it often is. What's hardest is having the courage to make the change. If you don't, then you allow yourself to be defined by past or present mistakes.
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Old 06-21-2010, 11:31 AM   #7
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Default Re: 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

Jmall, if everyone is hired by the Government, you would be too; you're not different from everyone else! If I believe like you do, then you are the one who has been hired by the Government and I have not? If you "worry" about what you think, just "assume" maybe it is wrong and decide to think the opposite, positive thing. Feeling afraid is not the same as actually being in danger. Assume you are not in danger and just feel you are until something bad actually happens. They can watch you type all day but until someone actually says or does something to you about it, you are fine.

Shadowghost, I think you are equating mistakes with being a fool or a loser. One cannot learn anything without making mistakes. If you do not know something (and we cannot know "everything") then you have to learn it and until you learn it, you have to make mistakes! Do not be so hard on yourself. Start enjoying your mistakes Mistakes are just practice for what we're learning. One has tests in school to see how well one is learning, how much one has learned so far, not to compare with others or be sad or anxious if one's score is not as good as someone else's! Everyone has their own path and if it takes you several tries to understand an algebra problem that I get first try, there is undoubtedly something else that you would get first try that I would not; so what? It is like comparing apples and oranges to compare me to you in that way.

Name calling tells about the person doing the calling, not the person called. That you feel you yourself have been a fool or a loser is about you and your judgment of yourself. If I (or your parents or anyone else) call you a fool or loser, they are talking about their means of judgments, not about who you actually are and what you are about; only you can know your path. But why would you want to define yourself as a fool or loser? It does not help you on your path.

Calling someone else those names does not help you (or hurt them) either. Yes, actions can be foolish but that's only from hindsight that we see it is so. And a particular action does not a "fool" make. Also, what is foolish to me may not be foolish in your life so applying "fool" to another's actions makes not sense.

Likewise, one can lose a sports game or contest of that sort but that makes one only a special conditional loser. There is no real contest in the comparison of one person with another as it is not possible to compare me to you as we are wholly different in background, education, experience, goals. . . selves. It's much like the old "men are better than women" or any other comparisons like that. People cannot be dichotomized in that way, cannot be "opposites" of each other. We're the same, only different
"Never give a sword to a man who can't dance." ~Confucius
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Old 06-21-2010, 07:13 PM   #8
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Perna, we'll have to agree to disagree! I know for a fact that I've been a fool and a loser in the past. This is a harsh judgement to make, but it's very, very true. And what you said about it not helping me? Wrong! It has helped me tremendously!! It motivated me to change when nothing else could. Life isn't all sunshine and rainbows. It's hard, it's ugly. Nothing will ever change that. And yes, some people are fools and losers. The person who keeps committing a mistake despite knowing that it'll adversely affect them in the future? That person is a fool. Despite how anyone may try to disguise this fact behind fancy terminology, a fool is a fool. A particular action does not a fool make? Does not the act of murder make that person a murderer? I rest my case. Enjoy my mistakes? So I should enjoy the mistake I made that cost my youngest brother his life? And don't tell me I wasn't to blame for my brother's death, you don't know anything about it. Many others, although well-meaning, have tried to convince me I wasn't to blame, but the plain fact is that I am!! This is a brutal truth to face, but it is a truth nonetheless, a cold, hard fact, as incontrovertible as the fact that rocks are hard, that the sky is blue. I don't run from harsh realities, I face them. It makes it easier for me to see what needs to be changed in my life. Not that making those changes is easy, but at least I know in no uncertain terms what I need to deal with. Perna, you have a certain way of viewing things. I don't tell you that you're wrong. Don't tell me I'm wrong!!!

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Old 06-23-2010, 01:55 AM   #9
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Default Re: 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

People who make poor choices are just people who make poor choices. All choice have consequences, and some of those consequences are unintended and unexpected.
Placing judgements like loser isn't helpful, and creates shame. Shame can be motivating, but it isn't necessary to create shame to be motivated. One can be motivated by wanting new and different experiences in life.
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Old 06-23-2010, 02:45 AM   #10
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Default Re: 10 common cognitive distortions & what to do about them

ECHOES, apparently you didn't read my last post. At any rate, we'll just have to agree to disagree. Nothing you or anyone else say will convince me that my views need to change. As I told Perna, don't tell me my views are wrong. They work for me!!!
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