Cognitive Distortions – Intro (Part 1)


That doesn’t make sense!

PREVIOUS: Why are you Stuck?

ARTICLE: “Thoughts Change Brain Chemistry

Cognitive Distortions (CDs ) are forms of  false logic, called stinkin’ thinkin’ in AA, & are the technical terms behind the ACoA Laundry List  – therefore represent Self-Defeating ways of Thinking.   (List of CD in Part 3)
They are some ways that our mind convinces us of things that are not actually true but sound rational if not looked at carefully. They are used to reinforce negative thinking & painful emotions. They only keep us feeling bad about ourselves & create constant   problems in relationships.

A CD is: ‘Any type of inaccurate way of processing information, which predictably results in identifiable errors in thinking’
Deficient Processing: causes something to go wrong in a situation (an unwanted consequence) because we didn’t think about it at all or think it all the way thru to its inevitable outcome – based on prior knowledge
Deficient Thinking: causes something to go wrong because of a faulty, distorted filter (C.D.s) applied to our thinking – about a situation

Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind C.D.s (1967) and David Burns (1980) was responsible for popularizing it with common names and examples.
Freeman & DeWolf (1992) and Freeman & Oster (1999) added: Externalization of self-worth; Comparison; Perfectionism.
Gilson & Freeman (1999) identified eight other C.D.s: the Fallacies of Change; of Worrying; of Fairness; of Ignoring; of Being right; of Attachment; of Control; of Heaven’s reward.

• Anyone can use cognitive distortions. However active addicts, people with low self-esteem &/or anyone living in traumatic, stressful, ‘trapped’  environment – will use these skewed ways of thinking more often than those who have easier lives. The day-to-day situations of some, like war survivors, gang members, battered wives, the underprivileged, most addicts, millions of suffering children… are so wretched & fear-filled, that without cognitive distortions, they would not be able to manage or function.

• One study showed that depressed and non depressed people pos/neg newswere equally able to learn negative information, but depressed people found it much harder to learn / take in / remember positive information. Everyone seems to remember negative events, but depressives focus on the negative ones. (Journal of Behavior Therapy & Experimental Psychiatry, 3/09)

• Kendall (1992) suggested that more accurate perceptions of the world do not always lead to better mental health or behavioral adjustment. C.D.s that are positively skewed can be very useful in certain environments, altho a ‘too positive’ view of things may just be narcissism (or being in lala / denial)!

2. OUR BRAIN – A little Chemistry as it relates to our THINKING
a. Our brains has hundreds of different types of molecules, arranged in a highly complex design.  Stimuli (what we hear, see, think, do feel…) trigger 30 + known neurotransmitters.  Some of those chemicals are relatively stable structural molecules that create the anatomy (hardware) of the brain.  Others are non-structural, making the physiology (software). It takes both types of chemicals to make our brain work.
• This chemistry influences hormone secretion from various sites throughout the brain, such as the thinking brainhypothalamus and the pituitary, and those hormones then carry messages to distant organs in the body

b. THOUGHTS cause actual microscopic changed in this elaborate system. We have billions of brain cells & they each make connections with others when stimuli or thoughts trigger chemical discharges (neurotransmitters). Electrical impulses, via ions, send messages throughout the central nervous system.

c. What we put into our mind actually influences our brain chemistry, like – fearful thoughts – which block the flow of energy to the body. In general, the more we think something the more connections are formed about it. Repeating pleasant, realistic, hopeful ideas will become strengthened & form grooves, which become habits. Constantly thinking scary, self-hating, what-if thoughts will form other deep grooves (different neural links), making them the path of least resistance.

d. The biochemicals released whenever we think are pumped into the bloodstream, creating changes in the whole body. Every thought is embedded at some level in the molecules of our brain.   One group of chemicals is triggered by a negative state of mind (like adrenalin & cortisol, changes in nor-epinephrine levels, & a serotonin deficiency), while others (like serotonin & dopamine) are generated by positive thoughts. ( Based on an article from “Open2Transformation”)

CDs are part of our Wounded Inner Child (WIC) ego state, in agreement with the Bad Parent voice (PP).  When negative or harmful beliefs which are hidden from ourselves in the unconscious contradict the good things we consciously want, no matter how sincerely, which one wins? Of course, the bad ones, because they’ve been with us the longest & they connect us to our family.

“The human body and mind is highly receptive to the messages and feelings put out by the thinker.  How we feel about ourselves impacts how we function. When you feel or think, “I’m ugly; I’m stupid; I’m no good; I’m fat,” your body and mind responds to that.  Consciously and subconsciously, impairing and impacting delicate functions of the body and thought processes — even the immune system, and restricts flow of creativity, holistic thought, expression and joy.” from ErinJanus.comTo heal, we have to identify & own the CDs.  Then slowly, gently replace them.

NEXT: CDs – Intro (Part 2)


2 thoughts on “Cognitive Distortions – Intro (Part 1)

  1. Hi Donna… great post.

    I learned about CDs in a set of sessions a Psychiatrist lead me through. He was also a 12-stepper himself and focused mainly on working with recovering addicts and alcoholics.

    The names Dr. Burns gives to the various CDs in his book, Feeling Good, really help identify the common distortions in a way that we can more easily recognize them in our thinking.

    For me a big one was the Labelling. I have a sarcastic bent that seems to come naturally. Yet I feel it turned around and bit me by helping me habitually make constant overstatements to the negative to describe how I saw or felt about things. When we say it, the subconscious picks up on it and it drives us deeper and deeper into believing these negative thing.

    I personally believe that negative overstatement is most often an expression of self-pity. For instance, “all I do is pay taxes”, is a statement that is highly improbable as an actual fact. And wouldnt that make for a pathetic person who all they ever did was pay taxes and had nothing for themselves? I believe the sick side of our thinking wants us to believe these negative overstatments so we can continually be dragged further and further down.

    When I did a course of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) sessions with an emphasis on identifying my common distortions, life began to change immediately. I saw the lies of my enemy (my negative internal dialogue) and exposed him for the liar he was. I then learned to look for, hear, and speak more truth.

    The result was depression and anxiety that I had known my entire life began to lift almost immediately. It was amazing. This simple set of discoveries is very, very powerful.

    Thanks again for the post.




    • Hi Chaz, nice to hear from you. Funny you should mention self-pity – I just wrote 2 posts on “feeling sorry for” – both positive & negative. Will be up in a couple of weeks.

      Amazing how powerful the right info is.
      Reminds me of the books & ads : “What the IRS / doctor / insurance co …. don’t want you to know”.
      For us it’s : “What your family / Introject don’t want you to know”.

      Well, we fooled them – we got the drop on their tactics & took away their power! Yeah!


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