People with mental illness are taught about the cognitive distortions we have, which ranges from black and white thinking (a.k.a polarized thinking), to overgeneralization, to catastrophizing. However, after learning about and practicing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques for 6 weeks, people can dramatically change the way they think, feel, and behave.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.
– PsychCentral article, In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
These are the 15 styles of distorted thinking I learned about. Filtering is an awful problem, where people might only focus on their mistakes and not their accomplishments. People who are depressed will frequently only notice and react to the things that contribute to their depression. Polarized Thinking (a.k.a. Black and White thinking), means that people will see a person, circumstance, or the world as one thing: “I am all bad,” “I am a failure,” “I can’t do anything.”
Self-talk is very powerful in combating these thoughts. For example:
Hey, me! You’re having polarized thinking again! Remember, nothing is all good or all bad, and everyone has successes and un-successes! -Good CBT practice
It’s funny, though, because as I have started getting back into reading news and social media, I’m noticing that society as a whole has distorted thinking patterns. Seriously, (almost) everyone needs to be taught CBT. One class on Distorted Thinking in schools may do wonders for society.
To walk you through an example, I’m going to reference comments made about mentally ill individuals.
15 Styles of Distorted Thinking from Everyday People on the Topic of People with Mental Illness
- Filtering: The news only shows instances of mentally ill people being violent and dangerous.
- Polarized Thinking: “All of the mentally ill are incapable of holding jobs and fellow residents.”
- Overgeneralization: The news shows us the worst of mentally ill people, so average people believe that all of us are like that.
- Mind Reading: “Everyone feels the same way as me about the mentally ill.”
- Catastrophizing: “What if we allow the mentally ill into our neighborhoods through public/affordable housing? What if we have a homeless shelter near our neighborhood? Our children will be assaulted and traumatized!”
- Personalization: “My son gets so agitated. I do not know what I’m doing wrong.”
- Control Fallacies: “I feel like the government is controlling us by expanding Medicaid. Why won’t they listen to us that we shouldn’t waste our government money on insurance for those people?”
- Fallacy of Fairness: “It’s not fair that we don’t want the mentally ill in our backyard and the government is not listening to us.”
- Blaming: “I don’t understand why depressed people can’t get out of bed. They are so lazy.”
- Shoulds: “People shouldn’t have to take meds to feel better. People shouldn’t have to live off welfare. People should be able to get jobs and take care of themselves.”
- Emotional Reasoning: “I feel like mentally ill people are scary so they must be bad for our society.”
- Fallacy of Change: “If I tell my friend that he is not depressed, he will get out of bed.”
- Global Labeling: “Mentally ill people are violent and disturbing.”
- Being Right: The people who spam Twitter saying that psychiatry is BS and that mental illness is not real.
- Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: “We have been putting all of our efforts to point out what BS mental health is. It’s not real. The world should understand.”
To be fair, I think a lot of these distortions have been taught to us and extremely, extremely, extremely exacerbated by negative influences like the media and previous societal norms.
IDEA: Regardless of who you are and what you fight for, I encourage you to make a post pointing out any of the Distorted Thinking patterns related to the general public’s perception your issue, whether it’s related to religion, abortion, gun control, consent, etc. Let’s show the world how messed up our thinking is so we can fix it! And if you feel like you don’t know CBT well enough, just pick the one you find most applicable and understandable – Polarized/Black and White Thinking, Overgeneralization, and Catastrophizing I’d say are pretty easy to understand.
P.S. If I remember correctly, Cognitive Distortions has been renamed to Unhelpful Thinking Styles in more recent therapeutic worksheets.