Cognitive distortions (faulty thoughts and beliefs) create mind traps. Living your life with unhealthy ways of thinking is like… well, holding yourself prisoner in a dungeon for life when all along you had the key to your freedom.
David Burns, MD identified common mind traps (mistakes in thinking and believing) that can keep you stuck in unhealthy patterns. Once aware of these mind traps you can overcome them with the techniques of cognitive therapy.
Common Cognitive Distortions—Mind Traps
Dr. David Burns found 10 general categories of illogical ways of thinking that lead to negative emotional states. He identified these cognitive distortions after many years of working with patients and conducting research. Here’s a list of these cognitive therapy mind traps.
__ All-or-Nothing Thinking
A tendency to evaluate situations in the extreme.
“I got a B on the exam so I’m a total failure.”
Viewing a single negative event as a pattern of continual defeat.
“I didn’t get the job so I’ll never get a job.”
__ Mental Filters
Focusing on the negative detail and dwelling on it.
“I have a blemish, so I’m ugly and I’m not going to the party.”
__ Discounting the Positive
Transforming neutral or even positive situations into negative ones.
“Some one compliments you and you say inside, she doesn’t really mean it.”
__ Jumping to Conclusions
Concluding the worst even though its not justified by the facts. This one has two forms:
- Assuming someone is reacting negatively to you, but you don’t check it out.
__ Fortune-Telling. Predicting that something will turn out negatively and acting as though it is already an established fact.
__ Magnification or Minimization
Exaggerating the significance of a negative event or mistake.
You have to wait in line at the bank and you think, “I can’t take this.” Unless you’re ill you probably can take waiting a few minutes.
Or, it can be minimizing positive events. Someone compliments you for a doing great job that you gave your all to and you say, “It was no big deal.”
__ Emotional Reasoning
Accepting your emotions as the final truth.
“I feel unworthy, therefore I am unworthy.”
__ “Should” Statements
Trying to motivate your self or others by saying “should” or “must.”
These statements tend to feel like you’re moralizing yourself or others. They may cause resentment and end up de-motivating rather motivating.
Try using “want” instead of “should.” Feel the difference by saying these statements to yourself:
“I should do this.”
“I want to do this.”
“I shouldn’t do this.”
“I don’t want to do this.”
What did you notice?
Instead of just acknowledging a mistake or flaw giving yourself or others a label like “stupid” or “dummy” (sometimes called name-calling.)
__ Personalization and Blame
Taking on blame or responsibility for a negative event when there is no reason to do so.
Or, not taking responsibility when you have at least some responsibility for an event. For example, “If my parents had been richer, I’d be a success.” Identifying your cognitive distortions helps you become aware of habitual ways of thinking, believing, and perceiving that cause emotional pain, stress, physical symptoms, and problems in life.
Once aware, of these faulty ways of thinking you can have power over them. You can examine and challenge them and you can change them.
Don’t worry if you recognize a few. Most people have them to some extent. Almost everyone can enjoy better health and emotional freedom by unlocking these mind traps.
Print out this article and check off the ones that cause the most problems for you. Sometimes just being aware you have them is all that you need to change them.
If they are particularly a problem for you use the “Steps to Fuel Your Mind for Heath” in the “Cognitive Therapy” article.
You can also challenge these faulty ways of thinking by using these three steps (also developed by Burns):
- Become aware of your self-critical thoughts (keep track of them and write them down).
- Learn why they are distorted (which cognitive distortions fuel them).
- Talk back to them to develop a more realistic and useful self-evaluation system.
Let go of cognitive distortions, unlock mind traps with cognitive therapy. Enjoy greater freedom and natural healing in your life.