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Distorted Thinking Part 1: Is that your 'resting bitch face' or have I done something to upset you?

By David Mark & Debbie Fisher (https://www.human-wonder.com/team)

We can’t change other people’s facial expressions or emotions but we can can change how we interpret and experience them.

Sometimes our brain takes information from the outside world and shapes it to try and create a shortcut to help us understand what’s going on with speed and efficiency. But we don’t always realise that sometimes the shortcut isn’t actually very accurate or helpful. These are what’s known as a cognitive distortion or a thinking error.

What are cognitive distortions and what can you do about them?

Have these types of thoughts ever bounced around in your brain:

  • ‘I always get it wrong’

  • ‘There must be something wrong with me, because I’m not perfect

  • ‘He let me down, so I can never trust anyone again.’

  • ‘When I get the next job / partner / house / fill the blank _________ : then I’ll be happy’

  • ‘Okay I may have done well in this exam / interview, but that must have been a one off.’

  • 'When I meet my life partner then I will be happy'

  • 'Once I lose this extra weight, I will be loveable'

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

It has been found that the emotional and also the behavioural issues people experience in their day to day living are not caused directly by the events or external causes, but rather by the way we interpret and make sense of them. It’s been said by many great thinkers and psychologists that the majority of emotions you are feeling, are entirely created in your mind and body and are not actually happening in an objective sense ie in the outside world. We aren’t really being affected by the outside world, we are being affected by our inside world.

We are being affected by our inside world.

We can allow these thoughts and beliefs to live ‘rent free’ in our heads but by paying attention to the internal narratives we can decide how appropriate and true these statements or feelings are, and choose to select or shift towards more helpful thoughts and feelings, that springboard into a happier or content existence.

Now that we know we can shift our thoughts and feelings...

.......we can look at why we have cognitive distortions and how they get formed. According to Aaron Beck who was one of the founders of Cognitive Therapy, cognitive distortions first originate when A person experiences a threat, the consequence being the loss of the ability to process information effectively.

From a neuro-biology perspective....

This means we may be feeling content and then and we experience something externally or internally that causes us to feel threatened. This will lead to a threat response that involves the release of cortisol and adrenaline, and invariably move towards to a fight, flight, fawn or even possibly a freeze response.

When we are in this state of threat response, this is a difficult state to be rational and make balanced decisions or actions and the decisions that are made are very selective, egocentric and fixed. So our very clever brains create these shortcuts to try and help us to bring our brains back 'on line' and get out of the threat response. It is a way of protecting ourselves from having too much mental processing to do as it relieves the cognitive load. And even more cleverly, each time we use that same approach, we make the tracks (neural pathways) a little more smooth and speedy and the thinking pattern speeds us up continually. These shortcuts will have been very useful to us at one time, but they will be distorting actual information and might not be that helpful any more!

Let’s zoom in at some examples of distortions and look at these a little bit closer:


Arriving at all-encompassing conclusions, based on insubstantial evidence. An example could be: Johanna fails an exam the first time at 16 years, and decides it is not worth re-taking, as she will obviously fail.

Dichotomous thinking

This is to see a situation in terms of opposite, absolute polarities without giving consideration to the spectrum of possibilities. For example, someone may see themselves as the best at something, let’s go with career progression in a law firm. Let’s say, Sandeep, was top of her class, in her GCSE’s, A’Levels and her Law Degree. She was asked to take a redundancy, as the law firm lost a string of their biggest clients, due to a global downturn, and now she sees herself as a total failure.

Jumping to conclusions

This can also be described as mind reading, or fortune telling. We’ve all done this, for example someone may look at us in a funny way, or completely ignored us and we believe it’s because of what we’re wearing, our skin colour, our body size, or hairstyle etc. This is possible, it is also possible they just received some disturbing news, they’re late for a train or this might be how they look (also known as a resting bitch face). An example of fortune telling could be, ‘when I meet Billy for our first date, he will probably dislike me.’

Unrealistic expectations

Do you ever hear yourself or someone else say. ‘I must or I should.’ This is often about exaggerated expectations or obligations. Examples could include, ‘we should go to the funeral of the mother of a family friend, who lives 200 miles away and we haven’t seen in 18 years.’

Catastrophisation (magnifying and minimising)

This is closely associated to dichotomous thinking, predicting the most terrible outcome, despite being in a benign place. For example, Juliana got three points on her driving licence for doing 23 in a 20 zone. She know believes this is ‘the worst thing that ever happened to me in my entire life.’ Last week she lost her favourite LuLu Lemon yoga pants at the gym and this was the worst loss she ‘had ever had.’

Disqualifying the positive

This could be downplaying, discounting or rejecting a positive experience or event. For example, Jo does a great presentation at work, pitching to a new client. She doesn’t know if they won the business. Her manager, congratulates her on her impressive presentation skills. Jo dismisses it by thinking, ‘she’s only being nice as she wants to get something out of me,’ or ‘it wasn’t that good, others have done better than me.’

Emotional reasoning

This is when a person believes the feeling is actually reflecting a fact. The feeling we know is transient and will change, however the person believes this to be true. For example, Javier thinking ‘I feel that I cannot cope, so I’ll have a few drinks before I meet my ex-wife to discuss our childcare arrangements.’ Or, Sophia thinking, ‘I feel so unattractive, so I must be ugly.’

Self Reproach


Here, Freddie, (a single 35 year), has a tendency to believe, all events are attributable to his actions (usually his underachievement), despite no evidence to support this. His best friend, Seamus, has recently got married and they have had their first child. Freddy feels his friend is rejecting him as they don’t go out much together, yet Freddie believes it is something he has done.

Self criticism

Many people blame themselves, or criticise themselves, without having the evidence to support this. They can go on to ruminate and this can make things even worse. For example, Imogen has an auto-immune disease, because of genetic reasons, and insists that she must have brought this on herself. Hari, works two jobs to look after his family, and yet he sees himself as an abject failure, for not being able to buy a larger home.

Name calling

This is another form of self reproach, by using harsh and demeaning names to oneself. Pete, when he wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror, quietly says to himself ‘I’m such a loser.’

Finally we finish with one of our favourites:

Magical thinking

This can be described as the belief that unrelated events are causally connected despite the absence of any plausible link.

For example, Ole believes when he takes six months paternity leave, his wife will launch a fem-tech start up, and be making 6-figures with-in that time. It is worth knowing, his wife works in marketing for an online retail firm, and has never launched a start up or been self employed in any capacity to date.

So we’ve looked at some of the more prominent cognitive distortions, and yes there are more. Most people will have 2 or 3 that they consistently have operating in their day to day lives - can you spot any? And what can we do about them?

In the next blog we are going to look at ways, to challenge these distortions, change our relationship to them so that we cultivate better ways to work with these thoughts and ensuing behaviours. But for now the most impactful thing you can do is be aware of them, observe yourself and acknowledge when you are having them.

To Wholeness!

From the team at the New School Of Nutritional Medicine

Learn about the Founder & Principal of the New School of Nutritional Medicine, Dr Khush Mark PhD HERE.

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