It may come as a surprise to some people that thinking – yes, thinking – can arrive in our consciousness in a distorted way. In other words, thoughts are not always neutral. It seems to be embedded in our psychology that thoughts can come wrapped in biases: biases that trend toward too negative or too positive.
Below are some examples of well-established distorted thoughts:
- Filtering: This form of distorted thinking is when a person “…take[s] the negative details and magnifies them while filtering out all of the positive aspects of a situation.” Filtering occurs often when we tend to “discount the positive” or focus too much on the negative dimensions of a situation.
- Polarized thinking: This form of distorted thinking pops up often, especially in political and religious discussions. “Either you’re this, or you’re that,” the thinking goes. “Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure. There is no middle ground.” The reality is that situations are rarely black or white.
- Mind Reading: Many of us are guilty of trying to mind read. It is defined as: “Without saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way that they do. In particular, you are able to [guess] how people are feeling toward you.” Moreover, mind reading will often take form when someone says, “I know what you are thinking.”
- Catastrophizing: This occurs when “you expect disaster. You notice or hear about the problem and start ‘what’s ifs.’ What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you?” The “What Ifs?” become an endless chain of anxiety and nervousness. The best approach to combat catastrophizing is to take a look at the facts and based your thinking on those.
- Personalization: This form of distorted thinking is when an individual “takes things personally” in an extreme way. This distortion occurs when a person “thinks that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction toward you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, better looking, etc.”
- Emotional Reasoning: In an ideal world, facts and data would be the basis of all decision making, but the so-called real world does not work this way. Often times, people are subservient to their emotions rather than the facts and evidence. When this occurs, a person is said to be reasoning with emotion. “You believe that what you feel must be true automatically. If you feel stupid or boring, then you must be stupid or boring.” One way to combat this type of reasoning is to remember that “feelings are not facts.”
These are just a few of the types of distorted thoughts that are out there. Others include “blaming,” “fallacy of fairness,” and “being right.” Arguably, it remains important to first identify negative or distorted thoughts, while the next step to try to mitigate them.