Knowing and Being Aware of Cognitive Distortions.

I’ve been experiencing a lot more anxiety than usual in the past few days because of an upcoming project. To get into the field after a period of break seem daunting because the lack of practice makes me question if I’m actually qualified to carry out this project. The thought goes like ‘Jananie, maybe you’re not qualified for this’. However, this statement has been causing tremendous nervous energy in me, is this a fact or just my opinion?

The above scenario perfectly captures one of the most common cognitive distortions that we all experience; emotional reasoning. Emotional reasoning is when we start to accept our emotions as facts because ‘I feel it; thus it must be true’. But the reality is I have had sufficient training to be called qualified to take up this role. My struggle with my low self-esteem is just making me doubt my capabilities. 

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While this might make perfect sense to so many of you reading this, and you may even think that you’re too rational to fall into the trap of emotional reasoning, chances are you have and you’re just unaware of it or you’re falling into the trap for other types of cognitive distortions. 

To understand cognitive distortions, imagine you’re looking at the world around you through rose-coloured glasses. What you see doesn’t resemble reality. In this scenario, the rose-coloured glasses and the inaccurate world you perceive is the biased perspective that distorts how we view the world around us. Cognitive distortions can be described as faulty or false beliefs that you have that influences how you perceive things and emotional reasoning is just one of them. 

Cognitive distortions although may sound harmless can cause detrimental consequences to us if left unchecked. However, instead of generalized consequences, let me bring you on a journey through myriad scenarios of different cognitive distortions, portray how it affects us and what can be done pertaining to it.  

Conformation bias 

Rofl Dobelli, the author of ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’ describes confirmation bias as the mother of all misconceptions. He defines it as our tendency to interpret new information we receive in a way that it becomes compatible with our existing beliefs, convictions and theories and filter out everything that is incompatible. 

Imagine you have developed this bad perception of someone due to whatever the reason may be. Thanks to this belief you will start deducing that the person is inherently bad even if information that is contradictory to your initial judgement may arise such as their kind gestures or their good intentions. 

Thus, make it your goal to always seek disconfirming evidence. Whether it is related to your core beliefs or your perceptions on family, marriage or success, write them down and spot all the times disconfirming evidence have shown up and you’ve ignored it. This is vital because confirmation bias has a huge influence on our decision-making process and it’s only best to view things from a balanced viewpoint.

All-or-nothing 

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Also goes by the name of ‘black-and-white thinking’ or ‘polarized thinking’, all-or-nothing thinking is seeing the world in terms of the extremes, unconsciously ignoring all the shared grey that exist in between. 

Put yourself in the shoes of someone struggling to lose weight named Johnny. Johnny has been trying this new diet for some time now and has been seeing promising results. However, due to his craving, he indulges himself in a moist chocolate cake after a long time. But his all-or-nothing bias exploits his slip-up to start binge eating and abandoning his entire diet because of that one incident. 

When you recognize your polarized thinking taking the wheels after this, take a step back and identify the amount of effort you have previously put in and if a single slip-up or a moist chocolate cake can undo it. It is important to be able to forgive ourselves or just cut ourselves some slack when such situations take place and continue striving towards our goals. The cumulative effort is what matters. 

Mental filters 

The mental filter is when we take up one small incident or event and focus on it entirely while we disregard everything else by filtering them out. 

I recently caught myself obsessing over the single statement by someone that has somehow made me feel like an outsider although we were close. For a few days that one incident that wouldn’t even have lasted any more than 5 seconds kept recurring in my mind. But after pondering on it for some time I realised there has been many instances where this individual has been welcoming and loving of me that I have disregarded. Instead, I was too fixed on one event that might have been just misinterpreted by me. 

It is vital for us to see the bigger picture, always. We tend to be too focused on situations that have carried negative emotional weight over everything good and positive. Here, similar to what we do to counteract confirmation bias, look for disconfirming pieces of evidence like all the times this individual has treated me well that I have disregarded. 

The most important step of trying to avoid or overcome any cognitive distortions is to identify that you are having cognitive distortions in the first place. This can be done either by just observing your thoughts and the feelings and behaviours that follow them or you can even put them into paper. The latter is highly recommended. Identify thoughts that have been potentially impacted by cognitive distortions that you are aware of. Next, trying to come up with an adaptive response to these thoughts. These may vary from identifying which cognitive distortions have taken place to question if what you have conjured up in your mind reflects reality. 

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Another most recommended method is examining the evidence. Put yourself in a courtroom where you’re not just the judge but also the prosecutor and the defence attorney. While the defence attorney might defend the accuracy of our certain thought such as ‘I am a failure’, have your prosecutor call out the thought, question its accuracy and the contradictory evidence present for it. This helps you see all the instances that do not resemble negative thoughts. 

Cognitive distortions are unavoidable and normal. However, just having the knowledge about their existence is not going to get rid of them but rather practising mindful thought processes and all the suggestions given here can help. It is important that you don’t beat yourself up in the process. Remember, we’re trying to unlearn things that we have been doing almost all our lives. It would take tremendous patience. 


Jananie Chandrarao is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Jananie Chandrarao
Author: Jananie Chandrarao

Psychology undergrad with a flair for writing.