What are distorted thoughts

11 forms of distorted perception that make our lives bitter

Last update: April 21, 2017

We all feel that we perceive the world as it is. While it is easy to understand that feelings and thoughts distort our perception, it is not easy to resist these distortions.

Our perception is distorted in many situations. This is normal, but existing mental illnesses such as depression exacerbate these distortions. Conversely, subjective perception makes us more receptive to mental problems. Both are often associated with low self-esteem.

Let and therefore take a look at the 11 distortions our mind subjects reality to. We shall see what they consist of and how they express themselves. So we can explain why they arise.

The 11 distortions to which our mind submits reality

Cognitive biases keep us from seeing things for what they really are. This is how we deform our image of reality because we focus more on certain aspects.

  • generalization. We formulate a general and universal rule based on a single fact: "You didn't pay any attention to me today, nobody likes me."
  • Arbitrary inferences. We draw pessimistic conclusions for no reason: "The reason they don't look at me is because I'm ugly", or, "I'll fail the test even if I learn."
  • Generalizing description. We use derogatory terms to represent ourselves instead of describing ourselves in detail: "I'm cowardly, stupid, weak - a hopeless case."
  • Black and white thinking. We think in extremes without seeing a middle way: "It has to be perfect or it's worthless at all."
  • Self-accusation. We keep blaming ourselves for things we can't help: "If I hadn't left the autobahn so early, it would have been brighter and the accident wouldn't have happened."
  • Personalization. We assume that everything has something to do with us, even when it comes to other people who have next to nothing to do with our own life: "See how good pink always looks while I'm always walking around like a bum."
  • Read minds. We believe we know what others are thinking and why they are behaving one way or another: "He thinks I'm stupid."
  • Illusion of control. We have the feeling that we are responsible for everything or that we cannot control anything at all: "It's my fault that things went wrong", or, "There is nothing I can do to change that."
  • Emotional reasoning. We assume that everything is exactly as it feels right now: "All my friends will leave me."
  • Selective abstraction. We use mental filters through which we block out everything positive, which is why we only focus on the negative: "It was lucky that I passed this test."
  • Maximize and minimize: Events are overestimated or underestimated in relation to reality. For example, a case of minimization would be to deny the importance of events that have to do with us: "He asked me if I would marry him, but he would also have asked his ex if she hadn't left him first."

The explanation for these cognitive biases

The essential elements of Beck's theory of depression are schemata, automated thinking, and the cognitive biases we just talked about. Cognitive schemas are assumptions and fundamental beliefs about reality. Automated thinking is irrational, inappropriate, and unintentional thought processes that are perceived as plausible. Finally, cognitive distortions are systematic errors in the information processing process. So faulty cognition is a core element that is responsible for our malaise.

All of these schemata are formed during childhood and can be activated in adulthood through a stressful experience. When a negative schema is activated, we process all information about that schema. So it comes to cognitive distortions and automated thinking and it arises cognitive triad of depression: a negative image of yourself, the world and the future.

Let's look at an example to clarify the meaning of these terms.

Mary is a girl who has repeatedly witnessed her father abusing her mother since she was a child. On the other hand, her mother told her that this is normal because all men are the same once they are married. Mary accepts this and will develop a negative pattern about her relationships with men. This is activated when she experiences a situation similar to the one that led to the schema. Years later, when her boyfriend yells at her, the "all men are bad and abuse" scheme is automatically activated. From this moment on, all stimuli are processed via this scheme and automated thinking arises regarding the behavior of your partner: "Everything he does to me is for my own good." Cognitive distortions such as emotional reasoning become apparent in information processing: "I think I will die and there is nothing I can do about it." All of this will lead to the cognitive triad of depression in Mary's psyche: a negative image of herself, the situation, and the future.

How we can correct our cognitive schemas, thoughts and distortions

A suitable treatment method for depression that is based on this type of information processing is the "cognitive therapy of depression according to Beck". This covers many different areas. The patient goes through a learning phase, a phase of practicing the skills they have just learned and applying them in real life. Various techniques are used to break open and question the erroneous perception that causes the person affected to sink deeper and deeper into depression. Some of these techniques are: praising yourself, finding alternative interpretations, questioning the evidence for these schemes, and responding to the disastrous predictions we keep making.

In this therapy, the relationship between patient and therapist is of the utmost importance. This treatment method is particularly effective if the behavioral aspect is also taken into account. It is good, getting active and doing things even when we feel bad and still subject to these cognitive biases. With the help of the energy we get through activity and the reinforcement when we achieve our goals, sooner or later they will go away.