Putting Thoughts on Trial – Part III

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Cognitive Distortions: The Role of Emotion

Continuing the discussion on common cognitive distortions, it is important to understand how these “thinking traps” play a role in our everyday lives, as well as simple ways to combat them.  


The problem with personalization is that one is expecting that everything that happens in the world is dependent upon their attitude, beliefs, or intentions, and is preoccupied with the “If only I…” mindset.  Under this belief set, one might think to themselves, “my mom seems mad today if only I would have brought her flowers to cheer her up”. While at first glance this may appear kind and considerate to think in this way, in actuality, it represents bearing an undue amount of responsibility on one’s shoulders that is not sustainable in the long term. Combatting this thought involves increasing awareness that one is solely responsible for their own emotions and outcomes, just as others are responsible for theirs.

Magical Thinking

On the flip side of this sort of faulty thinking is what can be termed “magical thinking,” that in its purest state represents a belief in an ideal world, where “If I’m a good person, good things should happen to me” or it’s inverse. This is very similar to the “fallacy of fairness”, and overcoming such thoughts may involve a greater understanding of the world we live in, and the lack of entitlement of positive outcomes.

Overgeneralization & Emotional Reasoning

Overgeneralization and its cousin, emotional reasoning, are both founded upon the idea of applying information that may be true in one state of being or setting to all others. The problem with these thinking patterns is that someone may feel as though they have very good evidence to back up their claim. For example, someone may feel as though others cannot be trusted, due to an incident where they had trusted a friend with some personal information, and that person turned around and used it against them. Choosing to believe, in light of this, that all others are untrustworthy is an example of generalizing a rule that may have worked in one situation, and applying it to all others.

Of course, once we adopt this mentality, as humans, we are hard-wired to look for information to support our claim, this phenomenon is known as “Confirmation Bias”, and we may only pay attention to facts that confirm our narrative about the world. Of course, recovery looks like overcoming this temptation to avoid confronting contrary information and to pay attention and challenge oneself to seek out these experiences.

Similarly, overcoming emotional reasoning is no longer trusting ourselves and our emotional centers as reliable narrators of the story that we tell ourselves about who we are and who we are not.

“Should” statements

The final cognitive distortion that will be discussed is the idea of holding ourselves to, especially high or unattainable standards. Many times this exists in the realm of emotions, stating things like “I should always be happy” or “I should never be sad”. Believing also that things should always be a certain way is a surefire way to find unhappiness, and does not resemble the messy reality of the world in which we live.

Of course, there are numerous combinations of these types of negative self-talk, and any increased attention at all to the internal conversation taking place is bound to provide some insight and healing. Give us a call today to meet with one of our licensed therapists, to help work through your own internal dialogue.

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