Healing by Recognizing Distorted Cognition

This is an article I wrote in 2015 or 2016 for one of my oldest blogs. I think it is relevant these times where we can get very creative with our cognition, following one or multiple ways of distortion that I mentioned in this blog. My thoughts have changed in the last years. I still want to leave the text as it was and add my current commentary to it with this purple color.

To be full of hope, to be able to dream and to work towards your dreams we need a healthy mind. If you feel sad, you don't have energy, you think that your efforts are useless and nothing will change you might be depressed. I also struggled with depression for some time.  First I tried some natural supplements, then i went to a psychiatrist and used anti-depressant. But I beat depression with the help of a book. The book I read was "Feeling Good" by Dr. Davis Burns.  I want to share with you what I've learned from this book which is based on cognitive therapy.

The biggest argument of cognitive therapy is that our cognition precede our feelings, and distorted cognition leads to long-lasting negative feelings and eventually depression.

“If we can become aware of the assumptions and distorted cognition, and understand why they are not reality we can heal ourselves.”

Now I don't think anymore that I need to understand why what I think is not reality. I now know that my mind has all kinds of chatter - to keep itself busy. I now decide what is important to do, how I want to show up in the world and water these seeds more (thank you Mirella De Civita - who was my guest in the podcast for the metaphor), notice the mind chatter, label it as thinking and give myself the space to be with it and to still do what matters. Now I do not believe the chatter. But I think this is a process. You can first challenge your thoughts (which might be very strong because you watered them for some time) coming up with arguments so your wise self sees that they are not necessarily true, they then lose their strengths on you and eventually subside or be replaced by positive thoughts or a clear mind.

Distorted cognition might appear in following ways:

The Most Common Cognitive Distortions

01 All or Nothing Thinking

The person sees himself like black and white. In a case of failure he feels stupid and unsuccessful. It is very difficult to have a healthy psychological state with this kind of thinking. Nobody and nothing is perfect. The one, that wants to be perfect cannot be satisfied.

02 Overgeneralization

One generalises one negative experience such as one person being late to work due to missing the bus saying "All the misfortunes find me". Or a woman being cheated on saying " All the men are the same, I cannot trust anyone ever again".

03 Mental filter

One focuses on one negative detail and decide that all is negative. It is the opposite of looking the world through pink glasses. For example one can say "I cannot learn this language" when s/he pronounces one word wrong. S/he improved himself/herself a lot but he just remembers the mistakes s/he does.  (this I caught myself doing while I was grasping the new state of life that is being created among the pandemic - I talked about it here. )

04 Disqualifying the positive

One does not take on positive things and attributes the positives to others. For example, if one achieves a success s/he says " I was lucky this time, otherwise I could never have done". Or when s/he receives a compliment, s/he thinks "He was just being polite". When he has a bad experience, he attributes it to himself and thinks this validates his opinion of himself.

05 Jumping to conclusion

This is reaching to conclusions that do not exist by interpreting things wrong.

This can happen in two ways:

a- Mind reading: This is finding reasons why another person acted in that way. For example if my friend does not greet me when I enter the room, I would think that he was offended because of the joke i made the other day. But in reality my friend just had a disappointing meeting with the boss and he was in deep thoughts so he did not hear me.

b-Fortune telling: To make negative predictions. These predictions may even come true just because we modify our behaviour according to our prediction. For example you thought of a very good idea in your workshop at work but did not tell because you were afraid people would not like it and think bad of you. You were so silent that after the meeting your boss wanted to talk with you to find out if there was something wrong. (I think we all might fall into this trap in the pandemic - we can get really creative imagining catastrophes)

06 Magnification and minimisation

This is magnifying mistakes and bad fortune or minimising success and good fortune. For example one says "I said that wrong. Now I am degraded"  or  "I didn't do much, anyone could have done it".

07 Emotional Reasoning

This is seeing our emotions as proof of the reality. For example "I feel so lonely, this is because I don't have any close friends" or "I am overwhelmed with tidying up the house,  it is better I do it later." We feel that way because of our thoughts and we jump into conclusions from our feeling. But as our source is wrong, we cannot trust the correctness of our conclusion. Procrastination also stems from this distortion. Even if we would feel better when we start, we are stuck with our feelings and postpone the action

08 Should Statements

Should statements about ourselves create pressure and stress. Even if we use these sentences when we set ourselves goals, this would have a reverse effect on us by causing reluctance. If we perform lower than the standard we set, we feel ashamed and guilty.  Should statements about others put standards to others and when they perform under the standards we feel anger and disappointment.

09 Labeling or mislabeling

Labeling is judging ourselves negatively because of one mistake. For example saying "I am the clumsiest" when one breaks a plate while washing the dishes. The labeling is very destructive.

10 Personalisation

Personalisation is taking the blame for something that has nothing to do with you. For example a mother thinking "My baby doesn't eat, I am a terrible mother."

Now that we know the kind of distorted cognition we can find the ones lying under our feelings when we feel bad and by reminding ourselves why that is a distorted cognition, we can feel better. 

The best technique is to take a pen and paper and write down our feelings. I will do it now:

I feel bad.

Why do I feel that way?

I am very lazy and I didn't do anything whole day.

This is "All-or-nothing" cognition.  I wanted to clean the house, put the guest room in order, finish the job I wanted to finish on Friday and send it but I couldn't do any of those. But this doesn't mean I didn't do anything. I wrote this blog post. I cooked. I put the dirty dishes to the dishwasher, I searched for and found the cards I thought I lost. I spent time with my husband and my cat. I went for a walk. I talked to the customer hotline about a payment. The fact that I couldn't do everything I had planned doesn't mean I am lazy.

How do  you feel? Do you find any of these distorted cognitions in yourself? If you took a pen and paper and wrote it down, did that make you feel better?

Alternatively you can follow the suggestion of Dr. Mirella De Civita, which she shared in the podcast: Journalling with your inner voice. She divides a page into two and writes the conversation of herself such as the "catastrophising me" vs "me me". Try it and see how that feels. 

I hope this post was helpful for you to navigate these times.

Isil Uysal Calvelli

If you ask me who I am in one word, I say “Human”. If I should do it with two words, I say “Loving Human”. If I am allowed to do it in three words, I say “Loving Creative Human”

I create words, emotions, connections, energy and spaces. 

I do that through coaching, writing, speaking, podcasting and training.


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