To recap, Cognitive Distortions are ways in which our mind lies to us and tries to convince us into believing a distorted version of the truth. These distortions reinforce negative beliefs and make us feel bad about ourselves, or look at other people, or experiences with a negative filter. These are unhelpful patterns of thinking and need to be identified, and through practice, eliminated. Understanding how we are getting caught up in our Cognitive Distortions, and working upon them can help us form better and more accurate thought patterns, making us feel better about ourselves and the world.
Welcome to part 3 of the 4 part series on Cognitive Distortions. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the first three Cognitive Distortions, that is Filtering, Black or White thinking, and Overgeneralisation. In Part 2 of the series, we looked at the next four Cognitive Distortions, which are Jumping to Conclusions, Catastrophising, Personalisation, and Control Fallacies.
In this Part 3, we shall be looking at the next four Cognitive Distortions, which are Fallacy of Fairness, Blaming, Shoulds, and Emotional Reasoning.
- Fallacy of Fairness: When we feel that the world is not being fair to us, even though we have given our best to the world, we are a victim of this distortion. We may feel that it is only right that we be treated better than we are. And when that doesn’t happen, it upsets us. For example, if I lend you an umbrella when it is raining and you don’t have one, I may automatically begin to assume that when I don’t have an umbrella, you will lend me one. And if you don’t I may be disappointed. But that has nothing to do with what you should or shouldn’t do. It has everything to do with the way I am looking at things. Just because I did something for you when I could, doesn’t mean you will do it for me when you can. As the saying goes – expecting the world to be nice to you just because you are nice is like expecting a lion to not eat you because you are vegetarian.
The world will not always pander to the way I want it to. (And maybe, when it does, and I choose to disregard it, maybe I have another distortion acting up simultaneously, which is Filtering). It will be significantly better for me to recognise these distortions and work towards eliminating them, if I want to avoid disappointment.
- Blaming: When we choose not to take responsibility and decide to blame others for what is happening to us, we fall in the trap of this distortion. We blame either some other person, or some situation. I had a client who would just not take responsibility. Despite it being pointed out many times, the tendency was to find someone else to pin the blame on – be it the spouse, the parents, the external world, anything but themselves.
For example, “You made me miss my class because of the movie”. Well, no one forced you. And even if someone did, you went because you wanted to, knowing well that the class will be missed. We have control over our actions and we need to take responsibility for them.
It is important to understand that we are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness, but conversely, no one else is important for ours either. The responsibility lies squarely on our shoulders. The sooner we recognise it, the better for our mental wellbeing.
- Shoulds: Also called ‘Rigid Rule Keeping’, this is a situation when we have a list of rules about the way things should be. If they aren’t it affects us. And if we have these rules for ourselves, it upsets us, if we break any of them. For example, a long standing rule in Indian mythology which so far I have found no basis for is the rule that women shouldn’t enter the temple premises when they are menstruating.
Or statements like, ‘women should not stay out of the house after 10 pm’. And when a woman does stay out of the house after 10 pm, you frown at her. While some of the shoulds could be rooted in ethics or legality, and should not be disregarded, not all shoulds (and musts, and oughts as well) should be accorded the same level of strictness. If we do, we suffer.
- Emotional Reasoning: I feel it, therefore it must be true. When we are not able to separate fact from feeling and think that whatever we feel is actually true, we let Emotional Reasoning get the better of us. I have a client who feels her boyfriend could leave her for other women, despite knowing that he loves her and isn’t the type to do so. But she is not able to shake off the feeling at all (because of Relationship OCD).
The trick is to be mindful about what is feeling and what is fact and be able to operate from the fact mindset, rather than the feeling mindset.
In the last blog of this series, we shall look at the last four distortions, which are Fallacy of Change, Labelling, Always Being Right, and Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.