11 Cognitive Distortions and what the Bible has to Say About Them

11 Cognitive Distortions and what the Bible has to say about them

What are Cognitive Distortions?

Full disclosure here: I have a tendency towards depression and anxiety. I know I’m not alone in that, but it’s still hard to admit, sometimes. Recently I discovered some things that really hit close to home for me, so I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on them. They’re called cognitive distortions, and they’re thoughts that people have that reinforce negative thinking.

Cognitive distortions actually play a huge role in a type or therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which focuses on challenging cognitive distortions. Doing so can be hard at first, and it takes a while. However, I can say from personal experience that it is absolutely worth it. Since I started challenging my own cognitive distortions, I have been so much more positive, less overwhelmed, and have been handling stress so much better.

Cognitive distortions are extremely common, but overcoming them on your own can be difficult.

1. Filtering

What is it?

Ignoring all the positive details of a situation while magnifying the importance of the negative aspects.

Example: You’re wearing a new, daring outfit to a party. By the end of the night, you’ve received several compliments on it, but one person has also told you they don’t think you look very good in it. Rather than focus on the compliments, you vow never to wear the outfit again because you obviously look horrible in it.

What do I do about it?

Focus on the positives. Be honest with yourself and count how many positives there are versus how many negatives there are, and weigh how important each one is. Chances are, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

-Isaiah 43:1-3

  • Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

-Psalm 23:4 

2. Polarized Thinking

What is it?

Also called ‘black-and-white thinking’, polarized thinking is when you don’t see any middle ground. Either something is absolutely the worst thing ever or it’s absolutely perfect.

Example: “I’m a complete failure.”

What do I do about it?

Look at the world in shades of  gray rather than in black and white. When you catch yourself having polarized thoughts, challenge them by looking for ways in which the ‘all black’ thought isn’t true.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

-1 Corinthians 12:17-18

  • “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

-Isaiah 55:8

3. Overgeneralizing

What is it?

Expecting an event that has only happened once to be extremely likely to happen again and again.

Example: You forget your flash drive on the day of your first big presentation at work. You think to yourself that you should never do a big presentation again because you’ll always mess it up.

What do I do about it?

Learn from bad experiences. Rather than decide never to do another big presentation, decide to make a checklist the day before the presentation and go over it a final time before you leave the house.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

-Romans 8:28

  • “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

-Jeremiah 29:11

4. Catastrophizing

What is it?

Expecting the worst of something or someone.

Example: “I didn’t get to study as much as I wanted to. I’m going to fail this exam, then I’ll flunk out of school!”

What do I do about it?

Think rationally! Just because you didn’t get to study as much as you wanted to doesn’t mean you’re going to fail the exam; even if you do fail the exam, that doesn’t mean you’ll flunk out of school. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:6-7

  • “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

-Matthew 6:25-27

5. Emotional Reasoning

What is it?

Believing everything you think to be reality.

Example: “I’m feeling kind of nervous about something, but I don’t know why. Something really bad must be about to happen!”

What do I do about it?

Examine other evidence. Do people around you look nervous? Are there police sirens going off? Does the weather look like it’s taking a turn for the worse? In addition, make a plan of action in case your emotional reasoning aligns with the situation. This will help relieve stress and fear.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

-Proverbs 3:5-6

  • So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

-2 Corinthians 4:16-18

6. Jumping to Conclusions

What is it?

Making interpretations (usually negative) of something or someone with little or no evidence.

Example: “My coworker just walked right past me without stopping to talk to me. They must hate me.”

What do I do about it?

Think of other possible interpretations. Did they look like they were in a hurry? Could they possibly be having a bad day? Don’t insist on having to have an interpretation. Don’t assume the person doesn’t like you until they tell you they don’t like you.

Relevant Bible Verses

7. External Control

What is it?

Viewing yourself as a victim.

Example: “There’s no point in trying for the promotion; my boss doesn’t like me.”

What do I do about it?

Realize that you are not a victim. Your circumstances may limit you, but they aren’t your end-all, be-all. You can work around them; you only have to try.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • For every man shall bear his own burden.

-Galatians 6:5

  • Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

-Proverbs 28:13

8. Internal Control

What is it?

Feeling as if you are responsible for everything and everyone around you.

Example: “My husband seems mad at me this evening. I must have done something wrong.”

What do I do about it?

Remember that it is physically impossible to fulfill every single need of everyone around you. You can certainly help them, but ultimately, they have to help themselves. This goes for your children, too: sometimes, they’re going to be unhappy. As long as their basic needs are met, don’t beat yourself up.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

-Romans 8:1-2

  • “Come now, let us argue this out,” says the Lord. “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it.”

-Isaiah 1:18

9. Fairness

What is it?

Feeling resentful when things aren’t always fair or equal.

Example: “It’s not fair that my sister can afford a brand-new car and I can’t.”

What do I do about it?

Reconcile your sense of justice with reality. Let go of resentment, anger, and disappointment when you feel like you’ve been wronged.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • I have seen something else under the sun:
    The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
    nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
    but time and chance happen to them all.

-Ecclesiastes 9:11

  • Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord;
    all the weights in the bag are of his making.

-Proverbs 16:11

10. Blaming Others

What is it?

Blaming others for your feelings or actions.

Example: “It’s your fault I overdrafted the account. You said there should be enough in it!”

What do I do about it?

Own your feelings and actions. No one can make you do or say anything you don’t want to. You can choose to not focus on your anger or other negative feelings. You are free to tell people no.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

-Matthew 7:3-5

  • You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

-Romans 2:1

  • When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer.

-Psalm 32:3-4

11. ‘Should’ Statements

What is it?

Being upset over something you or someone else should have done, but didn’t.

Example: “My son ought to be more grateful for everything I do. Without me, he wouldn’t have anything!”

What do I do about it?

Don’t focus on what should have happened or what you should have done differently. You can’t change what happened, so why bother obsessing about it?

Vow to do things differently next time. Instead of feeling guilty for not starting that exercise regimen you’ve been putting off, find the motivation to start.

Relevant Bible Verses

  • Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

-Luke 7:48

  • Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.

-Proverbs 10:4

  • When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer.

-Psalm 32:3-4

Sometimes it may seem like our thoughts and feelings are our own worst enemy. Rather than dwell on negative thoughts and question God’s will as Satan wants us to, turn to God’s word. The Bible has a lot to say about cognitive distortions; you have only to look. Hopefully the ones I listed above will kickstart your journey to challenging your own negative thoughts. And believe me, it is a journey. But it’s a worthwhile one that you will be grateful you took.

Feel free to share the cognitive distortions you suffer from in the comments, and what you can do to challenge them!

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  1. Wow, phenomenal post! I’m blown away by the details within!

    I’m visiting from the Take Action Tribe FB group and so happy to meet you! I’ll be pinning this to a couple of group boards I belong to.

    THanks for the details and for sharing your insight!

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