“Cognitive distortions” is an umbrella term for certain types of thinking that are known to help maintain anxiety and depression instead of challenging them.
There are many cognitive distortions listed in many books, with the most cited book probably being David Burns’s Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (1999).
The cognitive distortions are as follows:
1. Should statements: You believe that there are such things that should be done and shouldn’t be done, and you use these statements to beat yourself or others up when you or they do not meet expectations (I should have been perfect, or they should not have rearranged those items after I put them how I wanted them).
2. Personalizing: You blame yourself for anything that went wrong or any mistakes that were made, even if they were not your fault (Even though the firefighters said it was faulty wiring in the walls that caused the fire, I should have checked the outlets more carefully so that I could have discovered the problem and fixed it).
3. Fortune telling: You predict what the future will hold, often believing you know what others will think or feel about situations (If I do not wash my hands thoroughly enough, I will be seen as a dirty person, and I will get fired from my job).
4. All-or-nothing thinking: If it is not perfect, it is a failure (Even though 99 people gave me an excellent evaluation on my talk, one person said that it was only average, so I must have done a pretty horrible job).
5. Rejecting the positive: You pay attention only to the negative experiences because they are in line with what you believe, and you discount anything positive as an incorrect assessment (The one person who gave me an average evaluation on my talk was really the only person who was telling the truth).
6. Emotional reasoning: You believe that because you feel a certain way about something, it must be true (Even though everyone said they had a great time at the party, I know that they really didn’t because I feel like I am just a failure as a hostess).
7. Labeling: You put yourself or others down for innocent mistakes (I am such a loser for taking that wrong turn, now I will not be early to the meeting like I should be).
These styles of thinking, which are very common if not ubiquitous in OCD, can have extremely negative consequences for people because they can maintain people’s negative beliefs about themselves and the world. If all you can see is negative, then that is all that you will predict, and nothing will appear very positive.
Therefore, it is important when working with a therapist to identify these thinking styles and to challenge them so that they will not interfere with the progress of treatment.