By Dr Renita D’Souza
Most of us experience faulty thinking in our day to day life situations. These faulty thoughts are known as cognitive distortions. These are the thoughts which come to the mind when the person faces challenging situations in life. These thoughts sound rational but they are not.
For instance, a student scored low marks and he thinks “I am a total failure”. This is “All or Nothing” type of thinking. Here the performance falls short of perfect but the student considers himself a total failure. Cognitive distortions are automatic thoughts, they are not under conscious control.
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How cognitive thoughts are formed?
Core belief -> Underlying beliefs -> Automatic thought
Core belief – I am not good
Underlying belief – I am not good in dancing
Automatic thought – I cannot dance
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There are 15 types of cognitive distortions.
- Filtering – separating
Here the person ignores all positive aspects of the situation. It is also called as mental filtering. Filtering out all the positive aspects of the event and accepting only negative.
A student scored above 90 in all subject except in one subject, thinks “I am a failure” and start worrying for getting low mark in one subject. Here the student ignores the positive fact of scoring good in rest of the subjects and accepts only negative.
2. Polarized thinking
There is no alternative for failure. It is all or nothing. Considering as total failure when the performance fall short of perfect. Here the person thinks only in extremes i.e. perfect or failure.
A student failed in exam and thinks that it is the end of his career. He will not think of writing the supplementary exam and giving himself a second chance.
3. Over generalization
Coming to a general conclusion based on one incidence. The person expects a single negative event that happened once in life to happen in every other life situations.
A student failed once in the exam expect to fail in other exams too and considers himself always a failure.
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4. Jumping to conclusion
Here the person interprets negatively even though there is no definite facts to support his conclusion and he never bothers to check if he is correct. This automatic thought is manifested in two ways – Mind reading and Fortune telling.
Mind reading – The person conclude what other person is feeling and thinking about him, as if he is able to read other persons mind.
Example – The person concludes himself that his friend is angry and do not want talk with him. He will not bother to check or ask his friend if it is true.
Fortune telling – The person predicts that things will turn out badly.
Example – A student predicts that he will fail in the exam and he is so convinced with this feeling that he even stops studying for exams.
The person either exaggerate insignificant event or minimize significant events.
Example – When other classmate fail in the exam, a student thinks “What will I do if I fail?”
Here the student imagines the worst thing happening to himself.
When the student gets appreciation for his good performance, ignoring or not accepting the desirable qualities is minimization.
6. Emotional reasoning
Here whatever the person feels he believes it to be true, assuming that feelings expose the true nature of things.
A person feeling scared of flying in planes, believes that it is dangerous to travel by planes.
Here the person believe himself as a cause for any external negative events though he is not responsible for it. Person believes everything others say or do relates to them. They take everything personally.
A teacher taking class about being punctual, the student who came late that day take it personally and believes that the lecture was given because of her or only for her.
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“Should” statements refer to those rules that others or ourselves should follow. When these statements are directed towards other, it causes anger, frustration, anxiety and resentment. When these are applied to us and if we fail to do then it causes guilt.
I should wake up early in the morning.
9. Control fallacies
It is the belief that every event happening in life is being in complete control, either externally or internally controlled.
Externally controlled – defending oneself by saying, “I can’t help it”. It is considering oneself as a helpless victim of fate.
Internal control – assuming oneself responsible for pains and happiness of everyone around them.
I can’t help it if I fail in the exam.
10. Fallacy of fairness
Here the person believes that life should be fair and in every life situation they judge its fairness. This at the end makes the person angry, sad and hopeless because life is not fair always. Sometimes things work in our favor and sometimes not.
It is holding other people/our-self responsible for pain or failure.
12. Fallacy of change
Here the person expects others to change because his happiness and success depends on them. After constant demand and pressure to change, if the person is not changing or cannot change then this will lead to anger and disappointment.
13. Global labelling/mislabeling
Here the person generalizes one or two qualities into a negative judgement about themselves or another person. Instead of describing an error in context of a specific situation, a person will attach an unhealthy label to themselves or other.
Example – A student failed in exams says – “I am a loser”.
Mislabelling is using exaggerated and emotionally loaded language to describe an event.
14. Always being right
Continuously putting other people on trial to prove that their own opinions and actions are correct. They cannot accept being wrong, being right is more important than others feelings.
15. Heavens’ reward fallacy
Here the person believes that his sacrifice and self-denial will eventually pay good rewards. When a person works hard and is not rewarded, he feels bad.
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How to correct faulty thinking?
First understand the situation then identify the core belief. Ask yourself if this belief is helpful or not, is there any evidence to support the existence of your belief and is it logical. Identity your faulty or irrational thought, know which type of cognitive distortion and try to change this irrational thought into rational one.
Core belief – I am not good
Underlying belief – I am not good in dancing
Automatic irrational thought – I cannot dance
Rational thought – I may not be good in dancing but I can try to dance.
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How to differentiate rational and faulty thought?
Thought develop feelings and feelings are showed by the behaviors. Hence rational and faulty thoughts can be differentiated by change in feelings and behaviors. Irrational thoughts cause anxiety, anger, depression, fear etc. Rational thoughts makes you feel good, calm, confident, happy and so on.
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Perception, Cognition, Emotions, Behavior
Perception – receiving the information through 5 sense organs.
Cognition – the way of processing an information received through senses. It is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought.
Emotions – a strong feeling derived from one’s thought.
Behavior – the way in which one acts or conducts oneself. The way you feel, the way you behave.
For Example- I perceive that my friend is ignoring me so I think that she is trying to avoid me so I behave as if I do not know her and I also stop talking to her.
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Faulty thoughts in Students
This concept of cognitive distortions, understanding your faulty thoughts and correcting them is beneficial to the people of all ages. It helps the student to be more optimistic, gives courage to accept the challenge, makes more responsible, confident, accept the mistakes, feel better about oneself and others, improves self esteem and makes decisive.
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Ayurveda concept and Remedy
Ayurveda has explained the concept of attaining true knowledge and it is termed as ‘Prama’.
For example, identifying a rope as a rope and not as a snake. There are 3 mental qualities mentioned which will influence the good or faulty thoughts in a person.
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Perception of true knowledge to avoid faulty thinking
Tools for attaining the true knowledge
1. Pratyaksha – knowledge through direct perception through the sense organs
2. Anumana – knowledge through inference
3. Aptopadesha – knowledge obtained from the wise people and ancient scriptures
4. Yukti – knowledge obtained by intelligence and assessment.
To obtain true knowledge it needs keen observance, perseverance, concentration and proper sense-mind coordination. Knowledge is categorized as Yathartha & Ayathartha jnana, based on cognition level. Yathartha jnana is pure knowledge which is gathered by the sense organs and transferred to the mind. This knowledge is then analyzed by intellect and then transferred to the soul. Life experiences that is stored in soul affects the quality of knowledge gained and thus it varies from person to person.
To obtain unadulterated knowledge coordination between sense organs, sense objects, mind, intellect and soul should be healthy and intact. If any one component is not in rhythm within the coordination or absent from the sequence, knowledge is not obtained in its true sense.
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Faulty thought occurs at cognition level – the way of processing an information received through senses.
How sattva quality correct faulty thinking?
Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are the 3 qualities of mind. Sattva quality reflects the knowledge of the person. It is the prime quality of the mind. Rajas quality represents all actions, movements and activities which happen in the body. Tamas quality balances over-expression of rajas qualities. Rajas and tamas are 2 contaminants (doshas) of the mind. These two need to be kept in good balance, for a healthy mind and body.
Read – Manasika Doshas – Satva, Rajas, Tamas As Per Ayurveda
Faulty thoughts on long run can afflict the mind and can cause anxiety, stress, anger, depression, lethargy, grief, stubbornness, excess or deprived sleep, hatred, jealous, lust and such other mind related problems. Here rajas and tamas contaminants of mind are afflicted first and later it afflicts the body. Sattva quality of mind leads the person in the right path. It enables one to acquire true knowledge. Hence to correct faulty thinking one must improve the sattva quality of the mind.
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Qualities of mind are influenced by various factors such as things that we hear, think, see, touch, prioritize and so on. When rajas quality is disturbed mind becomes restless, it increases anger, anxiety, jealous, pride, aggressiveness, indecisive, etc. Person develops destructive thoughts. When tamas quality is increased it slows down the action, causes excess sleep, depression and makes the person act like stupid by masking the intelligence and wisdom caused by sattva quality. Thus person lose his reasoning power.
Diet plays a major role in balancing these mind qualities. Quality of food, place of serving and mental quality of food server all these will have impact on food which will be injected into our mind when we consume it. Eating good quality of food which is served by the person with sattvic mental quality will improve the mind quality and enables the person to correct faulty thinking.