We all see reality through a personal lens shaped by our beliefs, culture, religion, and experiences. The movie Roshomon was a brilliant example of this, where three witnesses to a crime recount different versions of what happened. When couples argue, they usually can’t agree on the facts of what happened. Additionally, our mind tricks us according to what we think, believe, and feel. These cognitive distortions reflect flawed thinking, often stemming from insecurity and low-self-esteem and cause us unnecessary pain.
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her work is informed by training in Self-Psychology, Voice-Dialogue, Dream Analysis, Jungian Therapy, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, EFT, and Hypnosis. She has also previously supervised other therapists as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor and practiced law as an entertainment attorney.
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or perfectionism, your thinking can skew your perceptions. Negative filters distort reality and can generate stressful emotions. Thoughts stir up feelings, which in turn trigger more negative thoughts, creating a negative feedback loop.
Being able to identify cognitive distortions builds our capacity to be mindful. Some are listed below:
• Negative filtering
• Black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking
• Negative projections
Self-criticism is the most pernicious aspect of codependency and low self-esteem. It distorts reality and your perception of yourself. It can make you feel guilty, flawed, and inadequate. Negative self-talk robs you of happiness, make you miserable, and can lead to depression and illness. It leads to negative filtering, which itself is considered a cognitive distortion. Self-criticism produces to other distortions, such as magnification and labeling, when you call yourself an idiot, a failure, a jerk, for example. (For 10 specific strategies for working with the critic, see 10 Steps to Self-Esteem: The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism.) Shame underlies chronic self-criticism and causes cognitive distortions. You might perceive yourself and events in a negative manner that no one else would. (See Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.)
Magnification is when we exaggerate our weaknesses or responsibilities. We can also inflate negative projections and potential risks. It’s also called catastrophizing, because we’re “making mountains out of molehills” or “blowing things out of proportion.” It’s driven by insecurity and anxiety and escalates them. Another distortion is minimization, when we downplay the importance of our attributes, skills, and positive thoughts, feelings, and events, such as compliments.