Avoid Cognitive Distortions (“Emotional Reasoning” & “Overly Rigid Rule Keeping”)

What are cognitive distortions?  Cognitive distortions can be considered slips in our thinking that we all make at times. They are a derivative of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  The main premise behind them is that your thoughts have an enormous impact on your emotions and the way you are feeling.  So, if you are feeling terrible, there is a big chance that you are thinking in an unhelpful way.  These unhelpful thinking styles cause us to jump to incorrect conclusions, make false assumptions, and much more. 

Ten main cognitive distortions cause us to feel bad about ourselves, others, and situations/circumstances.  So far, the cognitive distortions all or nothing,” “mental filtering,” disqualifying the positive,” and “jumping to conclusionshave been addressedDuring this blog post, the cognitive distortions “emotional reasoning”  and “overly rigid rule-keeping” will be presented, along with a way to overcome and avoid using these unhealthy thinking styles.

Emotional reasoning leads us away from thinking rationally.  It refers to situations when we begin to depend solely on our feelings as a guide for our thoughts and behavior.  For example, your significant other has been staying late at work quite frequently.  The main feeling that manifests in this situation is suspicion.  Based on your feeling of suspicion related to your significant other’s behavior, you conclude that they are meeting someone on these evenings.  Or, suppose you feel embarrassed about something you recently did.  Based on your feeling of embarrassment, you conclude that you are stupid.  In each case, you would be basing your conclusions on your current emotional state. 

We can do several things to combat this unhealthy thinking style.  We can start paying attention to our thoughts.  Start paying attention when certain feelings begin to manifest.  Remember that basing our conclusions on our feelings is not always the most appropriate way to measure reality, particularly when we are not in the best emotional state. We can consider how we might view the situation if we were in a calmer state.  At this point, we can consider whether there is any concrete evidence that supports our interpretation of our feelings.  Is there any FACTUAL evidence that suggests that we should be upset about this situation? 

Overly rigid rule keeping refers to assigning overly rigid rules to the way we believe we should behave, others should behave, or how a situation should turn out.  When we assign overly rigid rules to another’s behavior, we will often become angry when they do not conform to our rules.  When we assign overly rigid rules to our behavior, we will often become guilty when we do not conform to the rules.  When we assign overly rigid rules to our expectations of how something should turn out, we are often left feeling disappointed when our expectations have not been met. 

Using terms like “should” and “must” are typically great indicators that we are utilizing this unhealthy thinking style.  These statements provide insight into the standards we uphold and the things we expect from others, ourselves, and situations.  Of course, these standards can be helpful.  However, they can also lead to unrealistic expectations that we, or other people, will find difficult to uphold.  These overly rigid rules that we place on ourselves, others, and situations typically mean that we have not adapted to reality as well as we could.

For example, you might believe that you must have the approval of others.  Or, you think that others should never let you down.  Maybe you think that the meeting you go to tomorrow should be one of the most inspirational meetings you have been to.  In each of these cases, if the expectations of your overly rigid rules are not upheld, you will be left feeling guilty, angry, or disappointed.   

We can combat this unhealthy thinking style by adopting flexible preferences related to our expectations of ourselves, others, and situations.  Rather than making demands on ourselves (“I must have the approval of others”), others (“no one should ever let me down”), and situations (“my meeting tomorrow should be one of the most inspirational meetings I have been to”).  Instead, we can pay attention to the words we are using.  For example, “I prefer the approval of others.”  “I wish no one would let me down.”  “My meeting tomorrow could be one of the most inspirational meetings I have been to.”  Of course, we would prefer all of these things, but are they reality?  Will everything still be fine if they don’t happen? 

We can also remember that the world doesn’t always play by our rules.  Everyone has their own rules they live by.  No matter how much you value your rules, others in your life may not place the same value on them.  Of course, keep your standards, preferences, and ideals, but try to remove your overly rigid rules about you, others, and situations should be.  Today you can avoid cognitive distortions (“emotional reasoning” & “overly rigid rule-keeping”)!

(Photo by Elijah O’Donnell)