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15 Common Cognitive Distortions

If you have never heard the term cognitive distortion, let’s get acquainted.

As a migraine sufferer, you develop safeguards and processes that help your brain cope with the pain, symptoms, frustration, failed attempts, and emotions associated with having a chronic health condition. Over time, your brain becomes hardwired to create default responses that may not serve you.

Cognitive Distortions are inaccurate thought patterns. If these thought patterns continue to occur, it can lead to more symptoms, increased pain, anxiety, depression, and more complications.

So much of being a migraine sufferer is spent living in your head, deep in your thoughts. To be successful in the journey, you have to become aware of how you speak to yourself, and how these thoughts or feelings are impacting your body.

When does this become toxic?

Let me paint the picture. You get a thought, that thought tells you that you aren’t good enough. What happens then? What do you do? How do you respond? Most importantly, what does this do within your nervous system? Is this thought, feeling, or belief putting you in fight-or-flight, altering your posture, changing your breathing?

Remember this is to plant the seed for you to become aware.

Before you continue, take a deep breath.

This is not taught within the migraine community. Our thoughts have far more power than you may believe at this stage in your journey.

15 Common Cognitive Distortions

These are the most common cognitive distortions we have experienced throughout our personal journey and working with migraine sufferers.

All or nothing thinking:

When you see things in black and white or rigid categories. If something is less than perfect then you see it as a total failure.

Example – You pushed yourself out of your comfort zone to try something new. However, after you are a little sore afterward so view the experience as a total failure.

Over-Generalizing:

When a negative event becomes a never-ending cycle of defeat.

Example – You go out and about and a migraine sidelines you. From then on you decide that you can never go out again because a migraine will prevent you from living.

Mental filter:

Specific negative detail is highlighted and becomes the sole focus of your thoughts ignoring the positives.

Example – You are unable to attend a social function due to deciding to put your health first. However, all you do is spend your time feeling guilty about the situation, instead of focusing on the great progress you have been making recently.

Disqualifying the positive:

Positive experiences are rejected and “don’t count”; therefore, you are able to maintain a negative belief in spite of contradictory evidence.

Example – You go out with friends and have a migraine free day and you think it has to have been a fluke. I just got lucky today.

Jumping to conclusions:

Negative interpretations are made even though there is no actual facts or data to support the conclusion.

Example – I can’t go to our family Christmas party this year because last year I got a headache. Or magnesium will never work because I tried it before, and it did nothing.

Magnification and minimization:

This occurs either when something is exceedingly exaggerated or when something is shrunk down to a level that allows you to be inferior to any comparison.

Example – When you have to take a day of downtime to rest in bed, however, you view this as a catastrophe because this means that you are right back where you started and you have failed.

Emotional reasoning:

You assume that the way you feel reflects the way things are.

Example – You feel tired and in pain, so you think that life is always going to be exhausting and painful. Or you try to cook a new meal and you burn it, so, therefore, you are a terrible cook.

Should statements:

Motivated by what you should or shouldn’t do; however, this only creates guilt. When directed toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment. You believe you must live up to certain perfectionist expectations.

Example – I should never make mistakes. I must go to that party because otherwise, people will judge me. I should always put everyone else first.

Labelling and mislabeling:

An extreme form of overgeneralization where instead of describing an error, you attach a negative, generalized label to yourself or others. It contains  language that is bold, colorful, and emotionally loaded

Example – You forget a doctor’s appointment and you instantly say to yourself “I’m such a loser!” 

Personalization:

You see yourself responsible for the events around you even though you had little or no responsibility for them.

Example – You cannot attend a social event due to feeling unwell. You since then you hear it was canceled but you believe this was all because of you. When in fact the other attendees had their own valid reasons for not attending.

Fortune telling:

You anticipate things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is a fact.

Example – I know if I go out today I will get a headache. I just know it. 

Catastrophizing:

You believe the worst-case scenario will happen.

Example – You make the decision to attend a family wedding and before you have even left the house you have decided that you will have a migraine, have to leave, and then will have to let everyone down.

Thoughts like this are beyond common for sufferers. Think about the emotional and mental burden you are placing upon yourself. 

Mind reading:

You conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out with them.

Example – A friend has gone quiet on you and you think it’s because they don’t want to see you. However, another friend later tells you that they are simply giving you some space as they know you have been suffering recently.

Maladaptive thoughts:

Any belief you have that is not useful to you in each situation.

Example – Going to try a new therapy and but believing that there is no way that it will work.

Compensatory misconceptions:

The belief that you need to inflate your achievements to be socially successful.

Example – Thinking because you are unwell you are a total failure.

Note: going to plant the seed…If this is one of your cognitive distortions – as we go into the spiritual gifts in Module 4 – you may find yourself battling against how you are hardwired and what society determines you should be. Be aware of this.

4 ways to get through the distortions?

1. Be aware

You cannot win a battle if you do not know your opponent. This is a judgment-free zone. In the beginning, almost every one of us is jacked up and it is alright. If you aren’t I would imagine that is a distortion all in itself. Keep a rolling journal of your thoughts and just jot down the thoughts, feelings, or potential distortions you may be experiencing.

2. Reframe the thought

Look for ways to turn the thought into a positive. See ways in which you respond that can be different that will serve you, not make you feel less then. One of the best audios is from Les Brown – You Gotta Be Hungry – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFBqCPj6n44

3. Use our cognitive distortion worksheet

You are not a computer program. You cannot snap your fingers and the thoughts will immediately disappear. Sometimes I wish it was possible, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Using the worksheet will help you process the distortion and find an alternative way to work through it.

4. Seek professional help

There is nothing wrong with seeking a professional. A trained Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT) may be beneficial for you. When choosing make sure you do your diligence and ask questions. If you need any help with how to choose or what questions to ask, please do not hesitate. We are here for you.

 

Additional Reading:
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/cognitive-distortions
  • https://positivepsychology.com/cognitive-distortions/

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