Thinking distortions are errors in thinking about one’s self, others and the world. Thinking distortions are built around a desire to avoid reality, responsibility and accountability. In many ways, they help a person deal with their own poor self-image.  For example, instead of accepting one’s own mistakes, others are blamed. Then, one does not have to accept fault or admit that one could make a mistake or be wrong. Thinking distortions are frequent in the thought process of addicts. So is the issue of a poor self-image.

The Desire to Avoid Reality

Thinking distortions attempt to avoid reality are used to deal with difficult realities. For example, denial is a primary thinking distortion that pushes uncomfortable realities out of one’s awareness. An alcoholic in denial, for instance, insists that he/she is not alcoholic. The wife of a painkiller addict believes that he does not have a problem with pills… Denial can be applied to one’s self (I am not alcoholic), others (My husband is not abusing his medication) and the world (Domestic violence isn’t all that common). In all cases, denial includes difficult realities that are being pushed out of one’s awareness. A person who wants to avoid reality has difficulty coping with that reality. Admitting one’s own addiction or that of one’s spouse feels threatening and would add to one’s poor self-image. A better self-image is created out of denying unpleasant facts about one’s self or one’s spouse.

The Desire to Avoid Responsibility and Accountability

Thinking distortions help you escape a difficult reality.

Thinking distortions help you escape a difficult reality.

A poor self-image can result from believing one is less than others. For example, you might believe that you are not as smart as others, are incompetent or always make bad choices. Many times the motivation behind thinking errors is to protect one’s image in your own view and the view of others.Thinking distortions are used to lessen those negative feelings about one’s self. If something goes wrong that you have had a hand in, you might blame someone else, for instance, or seek to make excuses such as I didn’t feel well. This kind of behavior and thinking seeks to change others’ view of you–it isn’t my fault; I can’t be held responsible.

The Origins of Thinking Distortions

Thinking distortions have their origins in various places. Some are used to enable manipulation and deceit–even criminal behavior. In these instances their use can be conscious and per-meditated in order to avoid consequences. Also, thinking distortions can come from false beliefs about one’s self, others and the world. People who have been abused as children, for example, may believe that they will be abused by others if they take responsibility for what has gone wrong. Additionally, people with very poor self-esteem may feel unable to tolerate any more ‘negative’ information about themselves and avoid any information that would mean they are not ‘perfect’.

Photo by Marie Monroe