Cognitive distortions are more common than you think, especially among addiction recovery patients. These distortions are fueled by negative thoughts, low self-esteem, self-doubt, and insecurity. However, the patient needs to understand that these distortions are part of the journey to recovery. After all, the path to recovery consists of ups and downs as there is no clear, smooth-sailing path to instant treatment.

The good news is that cognitive distortions can be remedied with the proper professional help. We are very much aware of these distortions and the first step to battling them is to identify the most common ones.

What are cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions are irrational and hyperbolic perceptions of ourselves. These are inaccurate and often negative assumptions about who we think we are. These distortions often accelerate into more negative thought patterns to the point of convincing ourselves that anything positive is simply not true. 

For example, someone criticized the way you speak. This may lead you to believe that you are indeed a terrible public speaker which will hurt your self-esteem and your confidence in yourself. Cognitive distortions are often treated with cognitive therapy. The sessions break these negative thought patterns so that you may be able to perceive yourself in the most accurate way possible, without the debilitating negativity.

Common cognitive distortions among recovering addicts

Overgeneralization

This is when the patient forms a general conclusion based on a single event. For example, they will call themselves stupid and define themselves as dumb for failing an exam, with a complete disregard for everything else they have achieved in life.

Personalization

The patient feels as if they are personally responsible for all the bad things that happen to them or the people around them. For example, they may feel accountable for a friend’s bad mood even if the reason is far-fetched.

Mind-reading

Mind reading is when the patient assumes what other people are thinking about them. They often think of the most negative assumptions that people may have for them, even if these are completely far-fetched.

Polarization

The patient assumes that everything that isn’t perfect is automatically a failure. For example, a painter with cognitive distortion may throw away the whole painting the moment he commits a single mistake.

Fair universe fallacy

This is the belief that the universe is fair. People who do good things will be rewarded. People who do bad things will be punished. The person believes that everything they receive is proportional to their behavior and the level of goodness they put out into the world. As such, when something bad happens to them, they perceive it as a punishment for something they’ve done. They believe they deserve the misery which will worsen their negative perception of themselves.

Jumping to conclusions

The person automatically jumps to their conclusions in terms of what another person thinks or what will happen to them in the future. For example, they will assume that a business venture will automatically fail. These negative assumptions will cripple them with fear and render them paralyzed from doing anything. They may also conclude certain social interactions in the worst possible light by assuming that the other person hates them, even if there is not enough evidence to support it.

Filtering

This is a person’s tendency to solely focus on the negative aspects of things. He or she will completely ignore the pros and only look at the cons.

Catastrophizing

This is the person’s tendency to assume that the only possible outcome is a catastrophe. As such, their assumption that the ending is unbearable will prevent them from participating, to begin with. 

Emotional reasoning

Some people will base the truth of something based on what they feel. Their gut feeling or emotions will be the sole basis even if there is no hard evidence present. This is problematic because their natural tendency to gravitate towards negativity will misconstrue the truth in their lives.

Disregard the positive

The person will brush off compliments or even go as far as negating the compliments. For example, when called beautiful, they will say that they are unattractive. When their work is praised, they will point out the flaws and discount the positivity.

Change fallacy

This is the person’s belief that they can change other people. They pair up with people with problematic behavior with the thought that their influence can change how that person acts or feels. This is essentially setting them up for failure since people who are deeply troubled would need more than reassuring words or positive influence to change. They need a therapist’s guidance for effective behavioral reform.

How to cope with cognitive distortions

The good news is that cognitive distortions can be treated. It is challenging but a comprehensive treatment plan that best suits the patient will do wonders in eliminating this thought process. 

Therapy

Speaking to a therapist is the first step since the human mind is incredibly complex. We may not know all the answers to our questions or the reasons behind such behavior. A therapist will unravel these mysteries to bring clarity so that the patient may identify the source of their negative feelings and thoughts.

ABC method

The ABC method was created by psychologist Albert Ellis. This is a way to identify and challenge cognitive distortions. The acronym stands for:

  • Activating event – the root cause of negative thoughts and feelings
  • Belief – your assumptions or interpretations of the incident
  • Consequence – the resulting negative emotions and thought patterns

Monitor your thoughts

You may keep track of the way you think through journaling. Journaling is a popular habit among recovering addicts. It is the act of writing down your thoughts and feelings so that you can apply the aforementioned ABC method. It also allows you to get your thoughts in order so that you can pinpoint the negative areas so that you may overcome them.

Continuing the ABC method

After the ABC method comes D and E: disrupting irrational beliefs and effective replacements. These steps involve breaking the negative thoughts and finding positive replacements. You need to deliberately look for pieces of evidence that will contradict the negativity.

For example, if you find yourself catastrophizing, you can review your memories and find instances wherein things turned out for the better. If you always feel unattractive, focus on your beautiful features. If you believe that losing your job means the end of the world or the downfall of your career, simply assure yourself that you can always find a new job or learn more skills to improve yourself.

This process is difficult since it involves going against everything you have grown accustomed to. But it is worth learning because it actively beats cognitive distortions. These practices help you break out of the negative shell that is in your mind and allows you to view things from a more positive and realistic point of view.

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