Cognitive Restructuring: What Is It And What Is Its Relationship With Cognitive Distortions?

Does your internal dialogue make you uncomfortable? If so, knowing the cognitive restructuring technique may interest you.

Cognitive restructuring: What is it and what is its relationship with cognitive distortions?

Sometimes, we tend to think that external events determine our esteem, mood, and the relationship we establish with others. It is obvious that experiences can influence the aforementioned aspects. However, the reality is that our internal dialogue also influences how we experience what happens to us. On many occasions, these interpretations or versions of events end up being too subjective and automatic and, therefore, we end up understanding a situation in a very different way from what is really happening and the worst thing is that we do not realize it. This situation has happened to all of us at some point. However, when our own dialogue is what causes us discomfort and prevents us from rationally reflecting on the problem, this is when this is called automatic thinking, which is basically distorted thoughts You may be wondering, “So, how can I identify them and change them?” In this article you will be able to discover how to do it and what relationship it has with cognitive restructuring, a cognitive-behavioral technique

What are automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions?

To understand what cognitive restructuring is, we must first take into account what automatic thoughts, cognitive distortions are and what their relationship is:

Automatic thoughts:

As I have already mentioned, automatic thoughts are part of our internal dialogue and are expressed as thoughts or subjective images when faced with specific situations that involve intense emotions or feelings such as anxiety, anger, euphoria, etc. This leads to interpreting events subjectively and normally, these interpretations do not usually correspond to what has really happened, which is why they are said to be based on cognitive distortions. Automatic thoughts have the following characteristics:

  • They arise in specific situations: This internal dialogue mentioned above occurs in certain situations that may be different for each person. For example, a person who is afraid of being rejected may think that others think he or she is not interesting.
  • They are involuntary: They do not come from reflection or analysis of situations but would be like spontaneous and immediate reactions to certain situations that are accompanied by strong emotionality.
  • They frequently appear as obligations: Sometimes they are thoughts about how we think people should behave, how we should be, how the world should be, etc. Therefore, they often constitute obligations that we impose on ourselves and/or others.
  • They are exaggerated or dramatic: Normally they are thoughts that tend to dramatize or exaggerate events as if we were expecting the worst for ourselves. For example, a person receives a call at night and automatically thinks that a family member has died.
  • They are learned: These types of thoughts have normally been learned in our childhood and adolescence and usually come from family, school, etc.
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Cognitive distortions:

They are a type of automatic thoughts, specifically they are errors that we make when processing information about what surrounds us. There are different types, polarized thinking, for example, constitutes a type of cognitive distortion This consists of evaluating the facts absolutely, there are no grays but the facts are black or white. Other examples of other cognitive distortions are: “The only thing that is going to make me happy is if I achieve all my goals”, “I always have to be aware of the needs of others”, “I have to have everything under control”, etc

What is cognitive restructuring?

Once we understand automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions, we can now talk about this technique. The cognitive restructuring o (RC) is a procedure of the cognitive model and is based on the idea that the interpretation we make of reality influences how we live experiences and, therefore, how we relate to ourselves and others. For example, if we fail an exam and think that we are useless, this type of thinking can end up affecting our self-esteem and influence how we explain what happens to us.

The objective of this technique is the identification and subsequent modification of those thoughts that end up being harmful to the person who maintains them. Therefore, it focuses specifically on modifying automatic thoughts and replacing them with more adaptive and functional ones.

Cognitive restructuring techniques: How to work on cognitive distortions?

There are many different techniques to identify and modify these thoughts. Some of them are:

  1. Socratic questioning: Socrates (470-399 BC) was a Greek philosopher known primarily for questioning everything in order to find ideas that a person is not yet aware of. This same thing is done from current psychology with the aim of questioning cognitive distortions. To do this, different questions are asked to check the ideas for or against a certain thought, what evidence supports it, etc.
  2. Down arrow: The downward arrow technique is characterized by trying to identify what is behind a thought. To achieve this, different questions are asked so that the person can identify what factors have led to the origination and maintenance of a certain thought. In the end, the person no longer has any more answers to give so this allows the veracity of their fears to be raised.
  3. What would happen if…?: As I have previously mentioned, sometimes cognitive distortions are based on exaggerated versions of events. This technique is based on asking the patient what would happen if what he fears so much happened. The ultimate goal is for you to realize that even in the most feared moments, you have resources to face problems.
  4. Judge thoughts: This technique is mainly based on the fact that the patient must act as a defense attorney, prosecutor and judge of his or her thoughts. This allows the person to find objective evidence in favor of their thoughts and then attack them with evidence and finally, the “judge” will assess whether they are useful or not. This technique is very useful since it critically questions the way one thinks since the person can see the same problem from different points of view.
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Remember that it is important to seek help if you consider that you have thoughts that make you uncomfortable and/or prevent you from relating to others or yourself. A psychologist can help you identify and modify them and thus, your emotional well-being and quality of life.