Clarify Your Distortions


Have you ever had thoughts along the lines of...
"Why does this always happen to me?"
"This is never going to end.."
"He/she should know better.."

We've all had our own experience with these kind of thoughts, which can fall under the category of cognitive distortions.

These kinds of thoughts distort our perception of reality - they are irrational ways of thinking that we may all experience from time to time. If we don't catch ourselves, these thoughts can become patterns in our day-to-day ruminations. Not only can these distortions keep us feeling stuck, they can also cause great psychological harm to us, those around us, and our perception of the world.

Here are a few examples of these unhealthy distortions:

  • All or Nothing Thinking: Looking at situations in extremes. Something is either amazing or horrible. Something happens "all the time" or "never". Instead, have a wider lens to see shades of grey.
  • Overgeneralizing: Looking at one bad experience and applying it to all the rest in the past or the future. Instead, recognize that one incident or bad experience does does not impact all the other positives (about a person or a situation).
  • Disqualifying the Positive: Rejecting positive experiences and attributing them to other reasons outside yourself. For example, receiving great feedback at work or school but telling yourself it is not because you did well but because the task was easy and everyone did well. Instead, embrace the positive that comes your way, and graciously say alhumdulillah. (I personally need to work on this one..)
  • Magnification (Catastrophizing) and Minimization: This happens when we exaggerate what a situation means such as thinking one mistake will mean we can never recover, or minimizing how important we are to those around us. Instead, recognize your humanness, honor your self-worth, and acknowledge that everything can eventually be resolved.
  • Emotional Reasoning: Although our emotions are valid in that we can feel what we are feeling, we have to be careful with the thinking that "if I feel this way, it must be true". There could be many other factors for why we are feeling a certain way. I find this one to be challenging to overcome since our emotions can really feel like facts sometimes. 
  • Should/Must Statements: Placing expectations on ourselves or others with "should" statements is a recipe for disappointment, anger, and, resentment. Instead, identify your role in making something happen, communicate effectively, and let go of unrealistic expectations.
  • Personalization: This is when we take anything personally and assuming it is because of us that something happened, when in fact there could be several reasons for what happened. I have to always remind myself that the world is way bigger than me lol..
  • Control Fallacies: We all need to feel some level of control in our life, however feeling like we have no control over things can make us fall into victimhood, whereas thinking we have complete control is also damaging (and incorrect Islamically). We have to recognize Allah's planning as supreme and identify the many things we can control, such as our response to situations and our thoughts.
Try this: Now that you have a list of common cognitive distortions, use a journal to write down the most common ones you have experienced. Be detailed in documenting how the distortion manifested in your mind and how it affected your actions. Use this exercise to help heighten your experience of your daily thoughts. Next, make a list of healthier ways you can reframe your thinking and your response to a situation that was distorted previously.  The more you practice reframing, the better prepared you will be to respond positively to a similar experience in the future inshaAllah. 

Till next time, 

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