How We Distort Our Experiences

The language we use in everyday life both represents and impacts how we experience our world. We attempt to capture thoughts, ideas and to describe what we see around us using words. Inevitably, things get “lost in translation”.

We lose information through generalizations, deletion of information and cognitive distortion. Distortion is where some aspects of ideas and experiences are given more weight and focus than others. We all do this both consciously and unconsciously, and how we do this provides pointers to our underlying beliefs about ourselves, others and the world.

Here are the Top 10 Distortions:
  • All or Nothing Thinking: seeing things as black or white; right or wrong with no in between
    • Essentially, if I’m not perfect then I am a failure.
    • I didn’t finish writing that paper so it was a complete waste of time.
    • There’s no point in playing if I’m not 100% in shape.
    • They didn’t show, they are completely unreliable.
  • Over Generalization: using words like always or never in relation to a single event or experience
    • I’ll never get that promotion.
    • She always does that….
  • Minimizing or Magnifying: seeing things as dramatically more or less important than they actually are
    • Because my boss publicly thanked her she’ll get that promotion not me (even though I had a great performance review and just won and industry award).
    • I forgot that email! That means my boss won’t trust me again, I won’t get that raise and my wife will leave me.
  • Should’s: using “should’ “need to” “must” “ought to” to motivate oneself, then feeling guilty when you don’t follow through (or anger and resentment when someone else doesn’t follow through)
    • I should have cleaned the garage this weekend.
    • They ought to have been more considerate of my feelings, they should know that would upset me.
  • Labelling: attaching a negative label to yourself or to others following a single event.
    • I didn’t stand up to him, I’m so weak.
    • What an idiot, he didn’t even see that coming.
    • They let me down, I’m so stupid!
  • Jumping to Conclusions: making negative assumptions or negative predictions without evidence or factual support
    • She thinks I’m exaggerating again.
    • He still hasn’t forgiven me for telling people he was sick.
    • I won’t be able to sell my house and I’ll be stuck here.
  • Discounting the Positive: Not acknowledging the positive saying that anyone could have done it or insisting that you don’t count
    • That doesn’t count, anyone could have done it.
    • I’ve only lost 20lbs and am not at my goal weight so it doesn’t count.
  • Blame & Personalization: blaming yourself when you weren’t entirely responsible or blaming others and denying your role in a situation
    • If only I were younger, I would have gotten the job.
    • If only I hadn’t said that, they wouldn’t have….
  • Emotional Reasoning: I feel, therefore I am. Assuming that a feeling is true without digging deeper to see if it is accurate.
    • I feel like an idiot. (it must be true)
    • I feel guilty. (I must have done something wrong.)
    • I feel bad for snapping at my partner. (I must be selfish and inconsiderate.)
  • Mental Filter: allowing or dwelling on one negative detail or fact to spoil our enjoyment, happiness, hope…
    • You have a great evening out with friends at dinner but your meal was overcooked so your entire evening was “ruined”.


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