Common Cognitive Distortions and How to Reframe

One of the main contributors to emotional dysregulation is cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts that we experience surrounding a specific event, situation, or as a learned response. Cognitive distortions are common, but when experienced more regularly, they can become harmful to our overall mental health and functioning.

Here are some common types of cognitive distortions:

Catastrophizing: Seeing & believing the worst of situations.

Overgeneralization: Broad interpretations of an event or multiple experiences. EX: “I felt awkward hanging out with friends. I am always awkward.”

Magical Thinking: The belief that situations will be influenced by unrelated acts. EX: “I caused a thing to happen by thinking about it.”

Jumping to Conclusions: Creating meaning of a situation with little to no evidence.

Should Statements: The belief that things should be or go a certain way. EX: “I should be perfect.”

All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking in absolutes like “never”, “every”, or always”.

Reading this list with its examples, do you find yourself thinking any of these thoughts? Maybe as an automatic response to an event or reaction from another person.

If you do have these common thoughts, there is a bright side. Based on therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, we can relearn and change how we talk to ourselves. We can reframe the initial thought we have to events and choose a different way to talk to ourselves – intern changing our inner monologue and rewriting the narrative.

Here are some ways that you can reframe & change cognitive distortions:

Identify the Distortion: Begin by noticing what distortion you are experiencing. Is it all-nothing thinking, emotional reasoning, labeling, fortune-telling, etc.

Examine the Evidence: What evidence do you have for this thought? What evidence is there against this thought? 

Alternative Interpretations Method: Make a list of alternative explanations rather than jumping to one upsetting conclusion.

Inquiry Technique: Ask another person what they think about the situation, gain insight and perspective from someone else.

“What If” Technique: Ask “what if this is true?”; instead of trying to disprove your negative thoughts. 

Additionally, it may be helpful to think about talking to yourself in the manner that you might speak to a friend experiencing a difficult or uncomfortable moment. Typically, we would respond to a friend with empathy, compassion, and validation. By noticing, addressing, and reframing, we can extend that same level of validation, empathy, and compassion to ourselves while choosing to change the way we think about the situation.

Reframing our cognitive distortions takes time and practice, and it can be easy to get discouraged. What is important to remember is that by working to change the way you think, you can improve your emotions, behaviors, and overall functioning, one thought at a time.

Written by: Chardyce Kott, LSW