CBT Diaries | Session 2: Cognitive distortions

Here’s a link to my post on Session 1 if you missed it! 

[Edited 07/12/18 to add] 

A special note for any former group members who may stumble upon this series…

Hi there 🙂 If you haven’t read any of the other posts, let me assure you that I have never revealed any personal or confidential information about you or even shared your stories anonymously. I may have made brief references here and there to “group members” as an anonymous whole, but never in specific or revealing detail. This series has been strictly and diligently focused on my own experience and thoughts. I truly hope that in writing it, I did not do anything to make you feel that I breached the trust of our group. Good luck to all of you and thank you so much for being so brave and supportive. xoxoxo

Session 2 of my group CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) program for social anxiety focused on teaching us about cognitive distortions, or, as one psychotherapist I used to see called them, “wonky thinking.”

One way of understanding cognitive distortions is to imagine looking at the world through a negative filter, where you see a warped version of reality that you interpret as true. It’s a biased thinking pattern that affects how you interpret yourself, other people, and the world around you.

Everyone has moments of wonky thinking. What is life if not a collection of subjective experiences? But people with social anxiety disorder (SAD) can be practically drowning in distortions (me) and this affects their well-being and mental health. And in the case of SAD, these distortions usually focus on our performance or what people think of us.

It’s like seeing yourself and the world through rose-tinted glasses, except less rose-tinted and more… judgy finger-pointing.

Good times.

The point of learning about cognitive distortions is to begin recognizing them so that you can eventually challenge them.

My intention was to write out the list of cognitive distortions and give examples and explanations, but as I started writing I realized that I am too early in the learning process to feel good about doing that. I’m worried (oh god, is this a distortion I’m having?!) that I won’t do justice to the distortions, and it will possibly confuse someone who needs this information to be accurate.  

No. I can do this. I’ve learned stuff. I’ll put it into my own words.

COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS COMMON TO SOCIAL ANXIETY

  1. Probability overestimation: A bad thing is likely to happen (except it’s not actually that likely).
  2. Catastrophizing: If a bad thing happens (which it will — see #1), it will be catastrophic. One bad thing will unleash a domino effect where each domino is laced with horror and despair until every one of us is devoured by the bloodthirsty jaws of inescapable death (credit for that exquisite turn of phrase goes to Moana’s grandma in this opening scene.)
  3. Mind reading: I know what you’re thinking about me, and it’s bad. (I have a whole post on mind reading here.)
  4. Fortune telling: I have an invisible crystal ball that is telling me that this is going to end badly. (There’s some overlap with many of these — this one makes me think of #1 and #2.)
  5. Personalization: Whatever it is, whenever it happened, if it was bad, it was my fault.
  6. Minimizing the positives: This is the “yeah, but” distortion. If you call me brave, I will say (in my mind) “Yeah, but you only think that because [you don’t know me that well/I’m medicated/you’re trying to make me feel better].”
  7. Discounting coping skills: If something bad or hard happens (it will), I won’t be able to handle it.
  8. Should statements: One of our group therapists calls this “shoulding all over yourself.” I think of it as being “full of should.” I should be better at this. I shouldn’t need so much help or time. I should never be a bother to anyone. [I am the queen of shoulding all over myself.] Applies to “must” and “must not” statements too.
  9. All-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking: Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If I don’t finish my race in a personal best time, everyone will think I slacked on training and it will just prove to them that I am lazy and undisciplined. 
  10. Selective attention and memory: Noticing and remembering the negative more than the positive. That one temper tantrum this morning means that my kids are miserable with me as a mother and I am not doing a good enough job. (Never mind that our kids are happy, healthy, and loved.)

I hope I did those justice. My presentation is perhaps a little silly at times, but it comes from a place of wanting to inject a little humour into a hard topic rather than wanting to make fun of it. I hope it comes across in the spirit it was intended. 

Woo! Cognitive distortions, baby!

SESSION 2 TAKE-HOME MESSAGES:

  • I’ve spent my whole life thinking I could read minds, and it never occurred to me that my interpretations might actually be wrong. That sounds arrogant until you consider that all my interpretations about myself are negative.
  • I’ve always thought that my social anxiety “quirks” made me unlovable and “bad.” But when I saw the others in the room express those same thoughts and behaviours, it did not seem bad or ugly. It made me feel great empathy for them. We think we are unattractive, imperfect. But to me they are likeable, strong, and inspiring.
  • Maybe all my negative predictions won’t actually come true.
  • I’ve always had this weird feeling of not really “living” my life. I call it living a meta-life. I judge myself and imagine others judging me rather than actually being able to engage in the moment. I hope this will get better.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED:

Black-and-white thinking is setting yourself up for failure. Learn to tolerate uncertainty and imperfection, and you’ll unlock a whole world of colour.

Virtual hugs,

Sadie

10 thoughts on “CBT Diaries | Session 2: Cognitive distortions

  1. Sadie,

    You could write the book on SAD – you ARE writing the book! The lesson learned for Session 2 is critical to easy living.

    Uncle Mike

    Like

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