Living in the ocean of distortions

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Something of fate condemns us to the burden or the prize of being who we are. And, in case you think it’s a burden, you’re thinking wrong. But if you think it’s a prize, you are not very good form in the head also. Remember, life is simply neither good nor bad.

We forged the basic states of our cognitive functioning as a child, up to about 10 or 12 years of age. We add many things after that, but the bulk of cognitive functioning, which will form the basis of our personality, is formed up to 12 years of age.

It is important that we understand personality as the set of behaviors (thoughts, emotions, and actions) that we use to interact with the world around us, and that will form a picture of what others will use as a reference to think about us and what we think we are. That is, your interaction and how you are seen and how you see yourself from that interaction point of view.

These behaviors are structured in a network of cognitive structures that work more or less automatically. We can not say unconscious because it is not the best way of describing them, but, we could say preconscious.
To make it easier to understand, we can take writing as an example. We have generally learned to write around 6 to 8 years of age.

As an adult, you no longer need to think or make a voluntary muscular effort to draw the letter “a”. But, there is already a kind of command or programming that runs automatically and performs the writing action. This programming knows extremely elaborate things and that if we had to think about them voluntarily, decision making on the letter “a” would be very slow: position in the word, sound, contours, pencil or pen pressure, size, next lettering the letter, accents, and signs of nasalization, and syntactic function in the sentence.

But even with all this automatism and relative success of the process (the crass is always hell), still, if you want to take control of the process, you will almost easily take control of it from start to finish.

With almost all behaviors already learned, we have similar processes, usually more elaborate and intricate. And, in the same way, we can take control of them. The point is that, in general, our behaviors, acquired back in childhood, are still functional today in more than 80% of situations. That is, they apply themselves in the actual reality of life with enough assertiveness, leading to success or achievement in the absolute majority of situations. We can rely on our cognitive structure as we can rely on sustaining our legs at every step.

When the behavior is not successful in reality, when it is dysfunctional, the most likely is that the cognitive processes behind the behavior are distorted. These cognitive processes that serve to trigger the behaviors (actions, emotions, and thoughts) that we will have in the world also function as a filter through which we read reality. So if our cognitive is distorted, we tend to read reality in a distorted way and respond to the environment in a distorted way.

Often these distortions are severe enough to overall a picture of depression or anxiety. But, most of the time, this only causes suffering. There are patterns common to all of us in these distortions. That is, we tend to distort reality more or less the same. So we tend to have more or less similar sufferings.

See a standardized table of cognitive distortions and the explanation of each.

• All-or-nothing thinking – Absolute conception, argumentation and judgments, such as “always”, “all”, “never” and “there is no alternative”;

• Excessive Generalization – Extrapolation of limited experiences and evidence for excessive generalizations, occurring in the cognitive process a distancing from reality;

• Magical thinking – Expectation of results determined based on the performance of unrelated acts or pronouncements;

• Mental Filter – Inability to see both the positive and negative aspects of an experiment;

• Disqualify the positive – Disregard positive experiences for arbitrary reasons;

• Make hasty conclusions – Arrive at conclusions (usually negative) from little (or no) evidence. Two specific and common subtypes are also identified:
– Mental reading – Sense of access to the intentions or thoughts of other people.
– Reading the future – Inflexible expectations of how things will happen before they happen.

• Expansion and minimization – Expansion or minimization of memory, or any other fact, so that it no longer corresponds to the objective reality. There is a magnification subtype:
Catastrophizing – Inability to predict anything other than the worst imaginable but unlikely outcome, or considering a situation as unbearable or impossible when it is just uncomfortable.

• Emotional reasoning – Living reality as a reflection of emotions, for example, “I feel, therefore, must be true.”;

• Imperative has – Patterns of thinking that imply how behaviors and situations have to be, rather than considering the situation as it is, generating dissatisfaction, biases, and distortions of judgment. Or they have strict rules in which the person believes that they “always apply” regardless of the circumstances;

• Personalization – Assignment of personal responsibility (or causal role or fault) to events over which a person has no control;

Now, if I repeat the first paragraph of this post, you can understand more clearly that, things are not 8 or 80. That is, whether it is a premium or a burden but a much broader set of nuances between one and other.
Changing the pattern of functioning to stop reading the world and acting on it through distortions is a chore. I would not recommend going through this process alone, even being a specialist.

Likewise, I would not recommend that you tinker with the command lines of your computer’s operating system on your own. Many websites and blogs bring tools, manuals, and techniques for this alone, but in general, they are not functional.


These concepts were developed within a theoretical set of psychology that encompasses quite effective and profound techniques of transformation. Cognitive Therapy is not a self-help tool, although, throughout the process, it brings a lot of autonomy to its patients. Many coaches and NLP practitioners use these concepts and other CBT therapeutic tools. And, after all, the techniques seem to work in a more or less expected way.

Either way, seeking a qualified professional is always the best choice.

Raul de Freitas Buchi

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