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3 Cognitive Distortions that Stunt Your Growth

Thoughts are abstract. They are particular to each individual. They are mostly incorrect and unrealistic. There is little truth to them. And that truth will dwindle even more when your thoughts become distorted and lie to you.

Be aware of those thoughts, like abstract labels, such as, “worthless” or “inferior”. Those words and words like them have no value except what each individual person places on them. Values distort our perceptions. They can make us believe something about ourselves or others that are not true. You may have a value not to steal, but if you were homeless and hungry you might steal something to eat in order to survive.

We may use our own emotions to determine what we think is the true worth of a person or situation. Don’t fall into the trap of emotion reasoning. This happens when we label ourselves or other people and use that label as evidence. “I feel worthless here, so it must be true” or “That person makes me angry so he’s a jerk” are cognitive distortions of emotional reasoning and labeling. Emotions measure your comfort or discomfort in situations. Emotion is how you feel about something, not how something really is.

Worth is not something that you can obtain like a physical object. Nothing you can do will create worth. The worth of something or someone is abstract and varies from person to person. A car, house, baseball card only have worth because somebody gave it worth. That worth is not based on anything other than another person’s thoughts. It is made up. A fiction. So a thing only has meaning or worth to you if you give it. But that worth is not true because it changes from person to person. Truth doesn’t change. Red is red. Blue is blue. Saying a particular food is delicious depends on a person’s opinion, not a truth.

As human beings, we are meant to continue to grow and change over our lifetime. Our lifetime spans decades. Possibly 80 or 90 years. That is a long time to be one thing. It opens the possibility to be many different “yous” over time. Back in “the day” a person could be a blacksmith his whole life. Of course, he probably died at age 37. He never got to try his hand at another career later in life, like writing that novel about a blacksmith moonlighting as a royal detective.

If people were all-or-nothing, only one thing and could be nothing else, then there would be no reason to try to change or grow as a person. But that isn’t true. We are not the same as we were when we were a child or a teenager or a young adult. We are constantly changing. I may be a jerk today, but tomorrow there is hope that won’t be.

How can you continue to grow, or why would you even try, if you are labeled inferior, worthless, or not good enough with no chance to change? You can’t live up another person’s perfection standards. Perfection and standards are abstract and ever-changing. I may think it is perfect when the Steelers win a game, but that would not be the standard for perfection the other team holds.

Labeling, emotional reasoning, and all-or-nothing thinking are lies that can hurt the potential for understanding yourself and others, which will hinder personal growth and positive developments in relationships.

To learn more about the different types of cognitive distortions, you can read about them in Dr. David Burns book Feeling Good and in The Anxiety & Worry Workbook by David A. Clark, Ph.D and Arron T. Beck, MD.


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