In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the first three Cognitive Distortions, that is Filtering, Black or White thinking, and Overgeneralisation.

To recap, Cognitive Distortions are the anomalies in our thinking patterns which try to convince us that things are worse than they are, in reality. Since our actions are governed in a large part by what and how we think, it is important to make sure that we do not let any irrationality creep in, into our thinking. Hence, identification of these distortions and knowing how to deal with them will help us have a better worldview of the situation and our actions will be far less impulsive, and more thought through.

In this part two of the blog, we will see the next four Cognitive Distortions, which are Jumping to Conclusions, Catastrophising, Personalisation, and Control Fallacies.

Jumping to Conclusions: Jumping to conclusions is a distortion we face when we end up making a decision without considering all possibilities, either available, or unavailable. There isn’t sufficient evidence to prove the conclusion. This often manifests itself in one of two types – mind reading or future seeing.

For example, if in a meeting you have made a mistake, you may end up thinking – everyone must be laughing at me behind my back, thinking what a doofus I am. This is an example of mind reading. And if you have to appear for an interview, you may decide beforehand that the interview will be a flop and you won’t pass. This is an example of future telling.

Since these thoughts are going to determine what your actions are going to be and probably determine whether you succeed or fail, it would be very wise to challenge these negative thoughts. You once again, need to take stock of all the evidence you have.

In the first case, you may ask yourself questions like, was I the only one who made a mistake? Or was the mistake such a huge one that it would make people laugh at me? Or do I have any evidence that people are laughing at me?

In the second case, you could ask yourself questions like am I not prepared enough? (If you aren’t, it probably is a better idea to read up just a little more in the time left before the interview, rather than moping about it. It may very well be that bit that might be the deciding factor). Do I know what questions they will ask for me to decide that I won’t know the answers to them? Do I have any evidence at all that what I am feeling will necessarily come true?

Catatstrophizing: Catastrophizing is taking a very minor incident and blowing it up out of proportion – imagining the worst where any number of possibilities exists. This is one of the most common distortions that we all face at some point or the other. For example, if you have not been invited to a party at office, you may decide that people at the office do not like you, they may be plotting against you, they may complain to your boss, you may lose your job, get a bad recommendation, and never get a job again. This may lead you to feel depressed about yourself.

You do not know what the real reason is. It could be that the party was only for singles and you are married. It could be that the party was only for Heads of Department and your colleague pulled a fast one on you by telling you that he was invited. You don’t know. You just assumed and blew things out of proportion.

There are simple steps to dealing with a catastrophic scenario. Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What is the probability that what I am thinking will actually happen? – You may realize, again when you put all the evidence together, that the probability of something like that happening is very low. You have been a good worker, everyone usually likes you, you get along with all your peers, juniors, and bosses well, and you have almost always managed to turn in good work. So is the assumption that you are making even remotely true?
  2. What will be the impact of your fear actually coming true? – You may have messed up once or twice, but it still isn’t sufficient reason for you to be fired. You have seen other colleagues making more mistakes but the company has taken a tolerant view of that. Even if you do get fired, (something which is very highly unlikely), assuming that you won’t get another job again is unreasonable. You know your capabilities and will surely land a job – even if it takes time.
  3. Lastly, am I capable of handling the worst possible scenario? – If you focus on what you can do, rather than fretting over it, you may realise that you are capable of handling the situation, in case it ever comes to pass. That will give you the strength to deal with this better.

Personalisation: Personalisation is when you think that you are totally or partially responsible for everything bad that happens around you. One of my clients, who has religious OCD feels that God may punish her because she has unclean thoughts about God. So when she experienced some tremors in her city, she started believing that it was because of her thoughts about God, God was going to cause earthquakes in her city and punish even the others who lived in that city. This is personalization.

I had to explain to her that God does not work that way and that if there are intrusive thoughts in her mind, which she has no control over, God understands that and will not want to punish her or her city for something like that when He has other things to take care of.

Personalisation may be difficult to shake off, because such hyper responsibility is probably a function of a deep rooted mental disorder, but with changes in the cognitive process, it can be handled.

Control Fallacy: While Personalisation refers to a person holding himself responsible for things happening around him, Control Fallacy refers to a thought where the person thinks everything that is happening to him is his fault, even when it isn’t. In Control fallacy, the person disregards the importance of external factors in any event and believes that if he had only behaved in a different way, things would have been better. This is particularly visible in cases where one person in a relationship is dumped despite her best efforts and the other person is happy to put the blame on her. This often leads to her thinking that it HAS been only her fault and if she had behaved differently, if she had not been too demanding, if she had given him more time, they would still be together.

This sometimes could also go to a situation where the partner either cheats or is physically abusive and the girl thinks if she had been more loving, these things would not have happened. The external factors, all the shortcomings of the situation, the things that stack up against, everything is ignored. What is only visible, is that the fault is hers. (This happens equally in both genders, currently the pronoun she is used only to illustrate, not to pigeonhole).

The opposite end of the spectrum of Control Fallacy is where the person thinks nothing that is happening to him is his fault. Like in the above example, if the girl dumps him, if she has had too much, he could blame her for dumping him when he needs her the most, completely disregarding his role in the breakup. His abusive nature, his cheating, his insensitivity is all a blind spot to him and all he can see is her fault in it.

Control fallacy, like Personalisation, is difficult to deal with. In a lot of cases, despite being offered proof to disprove the notion, the lesson is not learnt. Through effective identification of the pattern and rationalisation, however, it can be handled effectively.

In the next blog, we shall look at Fallacy of Fairness, Blaming, Rigid Rule Keeping, and Emotional Reasoning.

After which, the last blog will speak about the last four distortions, that is Fallacy of change, Labelling, Always being right, and Heaven’s reward fallacy, which will complete the series on Cognitive Distortions.