16 Types of Distorted Thinking
- Tunnel Vision
Example: ‘I expect it’ll be another boring party’. It is being stuck in a mental groove. In particular you look for that which confirms your fear or prejudice, remember it from the past and expect it in the future. You ignore other points of view or the possibility of alternative solutions.
Example: ‘I can’t bear going on these awful buses’. This attitude is saying that it’s unacceptable if things aren’t as you would prefer them to be. You take the negative aspect of a situation and magnify it. To handle this, recognize when you use words like terrible, awful, disgusting, etc. and in particular the phrase ‘I can’t stand it’. Examine their rationality.
- Black & White Thinking
Example: ‘You’re either for me or against me’. Things are black or white, wonderful or terrible, a great success or a total failure, brilliantly clever or really stupid, a certainty or a complete mystery, friend or enemy, love or hate — there is no middle ground, no room for improvement, no room for mistakes. Judgments on self and other swing from one emotional extreme to another and are easily triggered. It is important to remember that human beings are just too complex to be reduced to dichotomous judgments, and that all qualities fall somewhere along a continuum, containing elements of either extreme.
Example: ‘I’ll never be any good at tennis’ after one poor game. In this distortion you make a broad, generalized conclusion, often couched in the form of absolute statements, based on a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again. If someone shows evidence of a negative trait, this is picked up on and exaggerated into a global judgment.
This inevitably leads to a more and more restricted life and your view of the world become stereotyped. Cue words that indicate you may be over-generalizing are: all, every, none, never, always, everybody and nobody. To become more flexible use words such as: may, sometimes and often, and be particularly sensitive to absolute statements about the future, such as ‘No one will ever love me’. Because they may become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Example: ‘Nothing can change the way I feel’. Making an assumption, presupposes knowledge that you do not have. Assumptions are often popular beliefs that have been adopted without examining their basis in fact, such as ‘I’m over the hill now that I’m forty’. Making decisions based on assumptions may lead to disaster, as when an executive assumes that a new product will sell well, having made no market research.
Often, taking things for granted causes people to be blind to possible solutions — assuming no-one can help them, a couple’s marriage may go on the rocks, when they cloud seek counseling. Question: what leads you to believe this? Why do it this way? Who says? What alternatives are there? What would happen if you did? What would happen if you didn’t?
As a practical matter, all of us must proceed with the business of living by relying on ‘maps’ of the world which we have taken on trust and which we have not tested and often cannot test. To supplement personal experience, we absorb a constant stream of reports, descriptions, judgments, inferences and assumptions coming from a multitude of sources. Form this abundance of stored information, you piece together a mental ‘model’ of the world and its workings that literally becomes your world view. However, people do vary considerably in the extent of their misinformation and in the degree to which they actively seek out new information, take opportunities to correct or update their mental models, and expose themselves to new experiences.
Example: ‘I know he doesn’t like me’. Making false assumptions about what other people think depends on a process called projection. It is like mind-reading — putting words into peoples’ mouths. You imagine that people feel the same way you do and react to things the same way. If you get angry when someone is late, you assume that another will feel the same way about you or others, in that situation. If you don’t like yourself, you assume others also think that way. The answer is not to jump to conclusions about what other people think and feel.
- Negative Thinking
Example: ‘We haven’t seen each other for two days — I think the relationship is falling apart’. You read a newspaper article about some misfortune and wonder if that could happen to you. Predicting negative consequences is a defense, to protect oneself from disappointment by expecting the worst. Consider, what are the realistic odds of that happening?
Example: ‘Quite a few people here seem smarter than I am’. This is the introverted tendency to relate everything around you to yourself, to yourself, to think people must be judging you, or to think that everything they do or say is a reaction to something about you. It is the habit of continually comparing yourself to other people, based on the underlying assumption is that your worth is questionable. You are therefore continually forced to test your value as a person by measuring yourself against others. If you come out better you have a moment’s relief; if you come up short, you feel diminished. Your worth doesn’t depend on better than others, so why start the comparison gamble?
Example: ‘It’s your fault we’re in debt’. If you see yourself as externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate or ‘the system’. You don’t believe you can really affect the basic shape of your life, let alone make any difference in the world, so you try and manipulate others to take care of your interests. Someone else is to blame and is responsible for your pain, your loss, your failure. The truth is that we are constantly making decisions and every decision affects and steers our lives. It is your responsibility to assert your needs, to say no or go elsewhere for what you want. In some way we are responsible for nearly everything that happens to us, including our distress and unhappiness. Taking responsibility means accepting the consequences of your own choices. Ask yourself: ‘what choices have I made that resulted in this situation? What decisions can I now make to change it?’
The opposite distortion is also very common — the fallacy that makes you responsible for the pain or happiness of everyone around you. You carry the world on your shoulders. You have to right all wrongs, fill every need and balm each hurt; if you don’t you feel guilty and turn the blame on yourself. Blaming yourself means labeling yourself inadequate if thing go wrong. With this viewpoint you are very easily manipulated. The key to overcoming this fallacy is to recognize that each person is responsible for himself — taking responsibility doesn’t imply that you are also responsible for what happens to others. Remember, part of respecting others includes respecting their ability to overcome or accept their own pains, make their own decisions and be in control of their own lives.
Example: ‘It’s not fair, he should take me out more often’. The consideration of unfairness results from resentment that the other person does not want or prefer the same as you, or that events do not turn out in your favor. The person gets locked into his or her point of view, with a feeling of ever-growing resentment. Be honest with yourself and the other person. Say what you want or prefer, without getting involved in the fallacy of unfairness: that people and situations shouldn’t be the way they are.
- Emotional Reasoning
Example: ‘I feel depressed, life must be pointless’. You believe that what you feel must be true — automatically. If you feel stupid then you must lack intelligence. If you feel guilty then you must have done something wrong. If you feel angry, someone must have taken advantage of you. However, there is nothing automatically true about what you feel — your feelings can lie to you, they can be based on misconceptions. If your feelings are based on distorted thoughts, then they won’t have any validity. So be skeptical about your feelings and examine them as you would a used car.
Example: ‘If we had sex more often, I’d be more affectionate’. The only person you can really control or have much hope of changing is yourself. When you pressure people to change, you are forcing then to be different for your own benefit. Strategies for manipulating others feel obliged. The usual result is that the other person feels attacked or pushed around and resists changing at all, or feels resentful if they do. The underlying fallacy of this thinking style is that your happiness depends on controlling the behavior of others. In fact your happiness depends on the many thousands of large and small decisions you make during your life.
Example: ‘You should never ask people personal questions’. In this distortion, you operate from a list of inflexible rules about how you and other people should act. The rules are right and indisputable. Any particular deviation from your particular values or standards is bad. As a result you are often in the position of judging and finding fault. People irritate you, they don’t act properly or think correctly. They have unacceptable traits, habits and opinions that make them hard to tolerate. They should know the rules and they should follow them. Of course, the answer is to focus on each person’s uniqueness: his or her particular needs, limitations, fears and pleasures, and consequently different values. Personal value are just that — personal.
You are also making yourself suffer with shoulds, oughts and musts (or their negatives). You feel compelled to do something or be a certain way and feel guilty if you don’t, but you never bother to ask objectively if it really makes sense. Some people beat themselves up constantly for being incompetent, incompetent, insensitive, stupid, too emotional, etc. They are always ready to be wrong. The psychiatrist Karen Horney called this the ‘tyranny of the shoulds’.
- Got to be Right
Example: ‘I’ve been doing this longer than you, so I know what I’m talking about’. In this distortion you are usually on the defensive, needing to prove to yourself and others that your views, assumptions and actions are all correct. You never make mistakes! If you’ve got to be right, you don’t listen. You can’t afford to — listening might reveal that you are wrong sometimes. Your opinions rarely change because if the facts don’t fit what you already believe you ignore them. This makes you lonely, because being right seems more important than as honest, caring relationship.
The key to overcoming being right, is active listening — making sure you really understand what’s been said to you, to appreciate the other’s point of view and what you can learn from it, which is effort better spent than in devising rebuttals and attacks. Remember that other people believe what they are saying as strongly as you do, and there is not always just the one right answer.
- Heaven’s Reward
Example: ‘I worked and raised these kids and look what thanks I get’. This distorted thinking style accepts pain and unhappiness because ‘those who do good are rewarded in the end’. You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there was someone keeping score. You feel hostile and bitter when the reward doesn’t come. In reality the reward is now. Your relationship, your progress toward your goals, and the care you give to those you love, should be intrinsically rewarding. If not, you need to rearrange your activities to provide some here-and-now reward, dropping or sharing the activities that chronically drain you — Heaven is a long way off and you can get very tried waiting.
- Rose Tinted Spectacles
Example: ‘If I intend everything to go well then I’m sure it will’. Often this is the product of wishing rather than genuine willing, which is backed up by actions. In a certain way, one is out of touch with reality. The extreme form of this distortion is certain way, one is out of touch with reality. The extreme form of this distortion is found in mania. Here we are concerned with lesser phenomenon: overconfidence, no planning for failure (no plan B or Z), over-elation, self-esteem not based on competence, heedlessness of danger and many others. With wisdom comes a measure of caution, based on experience.
The best way to practice identifying Thought Distortions in everyday life, is to take particular notice of one of the distortions for one day, and notice whenever it is used — by others or by yourself!
Frequently, several Distortions are combined in a statement, or a statement fits into several categories of Distortion. These are commonly Rationalizations — i.e. seemingly plausible explanations, excuses or justifications, which in fact are ignoring or fudging the real issue. For example. “I don’t need to work hard on this job because no one else will,” is an assumption, a generalization, negative thinking, tunnel vision, projection, and so on.
This Article is taken from Transforming the Mind
Written by Arshad. A