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Common Cognitive Distortions (1 of 2)

Communications is seemingly a simple thing, right? After all, we engage in communication everyday, and to extent all day. Then why do we struggle effectively communicating? There are a lot of factors that go into communication that can result in good or bad communication, but in this first of two articles I want to talk about five common cognitive distortions that block our ability to properly communicate. In a follow up article I will cover five more of these distortions.

1. All or Nothing Thinking: Seeing things as black-or-white, right-or-wrong with nothing in between. Essentially, if I'm not perfect then I'm a failure.

  • I didn't finish writing that paper so it was a complete waste of time.

  • There's no point in playing if I'm not 100% in shape. • They didn't show, they’re completely unreliable!

2. Overgeneralization: Using words like always, never in relation to a single event or experience.

  • I'll never get that promotion • She always does that…

3. Minimizing or Magnifying (Also Catastrophizing): Seeing things as dramatically more or less important than they actually are. Often creating a "catastrophe" that follows.

  • Because my boss publicly thanked her she'll get that promotion, not me (even though I had a great performance review and just won an industry award).

  • I forgot that email! That means my boss won't trust me again, I won't get that raise and my wife will leave me.

4. "Shoulds": Using "should", "need to", "must", "ought to" to motivate oneself, then feeling guilty when you don't follow through (or anger and resentment when someone else doesn't follow through).

  • I should have got the painting done this weekend.

  • They ought to have been more considerate of my feelings, they should know that would upset me.

5. Labelling: Attaching a negative label to yourself or others following a single event.

  • I didn't stand up to my co-worker, I'm such a wimp!What an idiot, he couldn't even see that coming!

In considering the list above, do any of these distortions sound familiar? We are all guilty of these distortions from time to time. They enviably distort our ability to properly receive and transmit understanding and emotions. All of these distortions reframe communication received in ways that are not allowing the person communicating with us to effectively convey what they are trying to get us to understand, see, know, or feel.

The reverse is also true. These distortions can cause our own words, actions , and emotions to reciprocate a false understanding which further dissolves the point of effective communication. This true in all of our relations at work, in our family, at church, with friends, or even with contacts or clients.

One step you can take to better your communication is to take an evaluation of these distortions. Consider each one and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being you don't believe you engage in that distortion at all or hardly ever and 5 being it is a major feature in communication. Any that you rate as a 3 or higher, try to increase your awareness of when these distortions creep in and counter them with the truth.

For example, someone who is battling "all or nothing" thinking, when you find yourself make engaged in such, for instance "everyone must like me," stop yourself and address it. Not everyone will like you, that is a false and unrealistic expectation. Tell yourself the truth, that thought not everyone will like you you will continue to work to be the best you can be flaws and all and that is being fair to yourself.

To take the exercise to a more formal step and find better results, try to start a thought journal. When you see yourself making such distorted thinking write it down. Think about why it is distorted and write down the truth. Match this process with prayer and seeking God's help in overcoming these false thought patterns.

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