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What is Cognitive Distortion?

“A cognitive distortion is an exaggerated or irrational thought pattern involved in the onset and perpetuation of psychopathological states, especially those more influenced by psychosocial factors, such as depression and anxiety.”  Wikipedia

The Wikipedia definition does not specifically list bipolar disorder as a psychopathological disorder, but it is clearly stated in this article, https://www.verywellmind.com/a-list-of-psychological-disorders-2794776

Cognitive distortion, in its many forms, plagued me when bipolar disorder ruled my life. Especially when I fueled my bipolar with alcohol and drugs, stress or anxiety.

Science has identified at least 50 different cognitive distortions. Some are minor mental blocks, while others can be quite scary.

When cognitive distortion takes over, your brain is lying to you. It is causing you to interpret situations in your life falsely.

It is through cognitive distortion that we form the deeply seated false beliefs we come to hold.

Under the influence of cognitive distortion, we become almost unreachable.

To remove cognitive distortions and the deep-seated beliefs that we form in our distorted thinking, therapy is required. I am not a therapist and this blog is not about how to heal from cognitive distortion. I can only define cognitive distortion and discuss the most common forms I experienced in my bipolar life.

The 10 Types of Cognitive Distortion That I Believed Most:

  1. Perfectionist Thinking: I put this distortion as number one because studies conducted after suicides are proving that this perfectionist thinking distortion is the cause in over 50% of the cases, with or without a co-occurring mental health issue. This is the “if I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all,” way of thinking. There is also another side to the perfectionist thinking distortion that is seldom equated with it. That is, “everyone is better than me” thinking. Both of these ways of thinking that keeps us stuck. The “if I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all,” distortion kept me from writing anything for over 20 years The “everyone is better than me” thinking could keep me from blogging. There are many better bloggers than I am. Instead, I did something novel, I attach their blogs to this one. So you get the best I can offer as well as access to the best blogs and bloggers. That they are better than me then becomes irrelevant.
  2. Personalization:  This distortion is exactly what it says, we take everything personally. I think this distortion should be called, “everything is my fault.” My personal example of this was a friend who asked me what meds I was taking. I told him and he convinced his doctor to prescribe them. A few days later he killed himself. I believed for years that his death was all my fault. If I hadn’t told him about that med this would not have happened. That is not true, but it was hard to convince me otherwise.
  3. Blaming: This is the exact opposite of personalization. Everything that is wrong in your life is someone else’s fault. “None of this would have happened if my wife hadn’t died.” “The business would not have gone under if I had a better partner.” I actually said and believed both of those statements.
  4. Arbitrary inference:  This distortion causes us to believe something without any evidence to support that belief. “I am going to get fired.” “Everyone hates me.” Those are my favorite examples from my own life.
  5. Selective Abstraction: This distortion is also called Catastrophic Thinking. This happens when we take one minor event and come to a catastrophic conclusion. My girlfriend was supposed to meet me at 5 pm. It is now 5:20 so she must no longer want this relationship. The fact that she was stuck in traffic never entered my mind.
  6. Mental Filtering:  This distortion only allows you to see only the negative and totally ignore anything positive. One of my personal favorite distortions. “My shoes aren’t shined, no one is going to listen to me.” It’s not perfect, so it is useless.”
  7. Overgeneralization: is when we come to a general conclusion based on one bad incident or event. For me, the loss of my first wife caused me to believe everyone in my life was going to abandon me was the biggest example of this distortion.
  8. Should And Must Statements: This distortion is self-explanatory and two-sided. As an expert in I should/they should and I must/they must, let me explain. There are the I should’s, should haves and should not or I must, I must not, we apply to ourselves and then there are the, they should, they should have and they should not, they must, or they must not, we apply to others. The “should, should not, must, must not” game unintentionally applies very strict rules to our lives and the lives of others. Rules that are unbendable and, in all seriousness, only break us. This game creates depression and anger and is the fuel for the constant irritability in our lives. Should’s and musts are words I removed from my vocabulary and my thoughts.
  9. Emotional Reasoning: This distortion leads us to believe our feelings are fact, but it is slightly more complicated than that. My jealousy made me believe my wife was sleeping with every guy she saw. Feeling equals fact. I was overwhelmed in a lot of situations and therefore I could never solve a problem. Emotional reasoning causes us to conclude falsely based on a feeling. It does not necessarily mean that we are saying our feelings are a fact. But that our feelings are fueling an irrational conclusion. This distortion makes it hard for us to learn to trust our gut instincts. If you always jumped to the wrong conclusion from a feeling it is very hard to believe that you can learn to come to the right conclusions from a feeling. I have learned with a lot of help you can begin to trust your gut instincts.
  10. Jumping to Conclusions: This distortion is divided into two parts – mind reading, you know exactly what a person is feeling or thinking based on nothing. Or fortune-telling you know exactly what the outcome of a future situation is going to be – and it will be horrible. Mind reading – “She just winked at me – she loves me.” “He just looked at his watch, this must be a horrible meeting.”  In both those instances, I was totally wrong of course. The lady did wink at me because I did something, she appreciated but she could not speak of it in that situation. She did not love me.  The guy didn’t even look at his watch, he scratched his elbow. He came up and told me it was a fantastic meeting.   Fortune Telling – “My bipolar will always rule my life.”  And now I have a life I wouldn’t trade for anything. “I am going to screw this up.” Not so much anymore and if I do, I laugh. We don’t know the future so why is it we think we do?

Early on in my journey towards mental wellness when my anxiety, stress and other bipolar symptoms would leave for a bit and then come back, I could feel the cognitive distortions, especially delusions, personalization, blaming and mental filtering, begin to gain control. That was one of the strangest feelings I ever had, it was like I was sliding out of reality.

Cognitive distortions can be banished from our lives. With the help of a good therapist and by learning and practicing the specific questions we need to ask ourselves to ward off the distortion we can free ourselves.

As we conclude this week’s blog post always remember our battle with bipolar disorder is with and in our minds. Our battle is with our illness not with other people, places, situations or other external things.  Our goal is to develop the self-discipline to take control of our emotions, minds, and lives.

The great inspirational speaker, Jim Rohn, said:” Work harder on yourself than anything else.”

I say,” Work hard on yourself and everything else falls into place like magic.”

Keep to the path, the hard one. The easy one does not go anywhere.

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BLOG OF THE WEEK:

Many other people blog on bipolar and related subjects. Mental wellness is all about knowledge and learning about ourselves. The more informed we are the easier our struggles may be. Each week I attach a blog written by someone else that I found interesting that may inform you as well.  This is another author’s work I am just attaching their blog for you.  I hope you enjoy this week’s blog created by Madelyn Heslet.