You Mean it’s Not Because I Look Fat?: Three Common Cognitive Distortions

“I’m a perfectionist. No matter what I’m doing I have to get it right every single time.” Todd just received a rejection from his #1 college choice. He was choking back tears as he explained he wasn’t sleeping well, eating regularly or spending time with his friends. “But Todd, what if there’s another college that’s a better fit for you? Weren’t you just accepted last week to a some other top schools?”

“He dumped me because I’m fat. I ate too much on our date, I can’t fit into my cute summer clothes, and let’s face it, I’m huge.” Sherry had been working on losing weight using healthy methods, but sometimes her “fat filter” crept into her thinking. “Did he make any comments about your body, clothes, or food choices Sherry?” “No, of course not. But I know he was thinking it. All guys do,” she bemoaned.

“I know it was my fault,” Bruce blurted out as soon as he sat down. “What happened?” I asked. “See, my wife and I were supposed to go this neighborhood barbecue. I was in charge of the hot dogs and veggie burgers. I totally spaced it when I was down the hill and when I got home everyone in the family was upset.” “Wait,” I interrupted, they were mad about the food?” “Well, the kids were mad because the dog was missing, my wife was mad because the dog had made a mess in the kitchen, and my Mom was mad because she forgot to DVR her favorite show.” “So what happened with the food?” I asked. “I went to Ned and picked up what we needed, but then when we get to the barbecue the grill didn’t start, their keg won’t work and a kid got bit by someone’s dog. See, it all started with me messing up the shopping list. If only I’d remembered, everything would have been fine.”

Todd, Sherry and Bruce are all different examples of cognitive distortions. Todd’s perfectionism is polarized or black-and-white thinking, Sherry has a distorted filter, and Bruce is personalizing his grocery store mistake. To combat cognitive distortions it’s helpful to 1) notice and name the pattern, 2) purposely choose a different thought and behavior, 3) notice and name the different outcomes. Todd chose to focus on all the colleges that did accept him and, even though he feels like a failure, choose to move forward. Next time Sherry’s brain makes everything about her weight, she will intentionally name all her healthy behaviors (exercise, reasonable portions, lots of vegetables) and focus on how good she feels in her body in the moment (strong and healthy). Bruce can intentionally look for “proof” that what’s happening around him is not his doing, and begin to use a little humor to show his brain he’s not in control of everything (“Really, I thought missing hotdogs ruined the whole neighborhood’s day?”).

Which cognitive distortion do you struggle with? Take some time this week to notice your patterns, and begin to consciously make some changes.