What are Cognitive Distortions?

Our thought patterns play a large role in the way we view the world around us, including things like our relationships, jobs, and living circumstances. The more experiences we have, the more patterns of thought we develop. Unfortunately, these patterns can often lead you to draw conclusions or interpret events in a way that is not actually based on facts or reality, typically in a negative way. When these false interpretations become a habitual way of thinking, they become cognitive distortions.

People often develop cognitive distortions in response to negative life situations as a coping mechanism. While they are not considered a form of mental illness on their own, they may be more likely to occur because of one.

Several types of cognitive distortions are particularly common. Some of these include:

  • Polarized thinking (thinking in extremes without considering all relevant facts)
  • Overgeneralization (applying a conclusion about one event to too many other events)
  • Catastrophizing (assuming the worst conclusion despite a lack of evidence)
  • Personalization (taking things personally that are not necessarily connected to you)
  • Mind reading (assuming to know what other people are thinking)
  • Mental filtering (ignoring positive things and focusing exclusively on the negatives)
  • Emotional reasoning (believing that emotions indicate the reality of a situation)
  • Labeling (classifying things in a negative way based on one negative event)

If you’re experiencing cognitive distortions, there are steps you can take to break out of these habitual ways of thinking. Once you’ve identified the thought, it can help to consider alternative evidence or interpretations that challenge your initial conclusion. Additionally, you may want to think in terms of how your initial thought is benefitting you as opposed to other conclusions.

Cognitive distortions can contribute to or indicate mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Flushing Hospital Medical Center’s Psychiatric Department offers a variety of approaches to therapy that can help you achieve an improved state of mind and quality of life. To learn more or schedule an appointment, please call (718) 670-5562.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.