Cognitive distortion is the fancy term for a distorted belief, a belief that doesn’t make sense because it’s not rooted in reality. For example, a thin woman who truly feels that she’s overweight has a distorted belief. The idea is that this distorted belief is pervasive and has the effect of making this woman feel badly about herself. Another example: I may come up with a million reasons why a date might not like me, but the root problem could be that I have a distorted belief about myself that underlies everything I say and do: the belief that “I am not good enough” or that “Something is wrong with me.” Some therapists are called cognitive-behavioral therapists, and this type of therapist focuses on the beliefs you have about yourself and helps you uncover any distorted beliefs that might be holding you back in your life.
When it comes to dating, men and women fall prey to all sorts of distorted beliefs even though they probably don’t realize it. I’ll review some of the most common ones that make dating stressful and unpleasant, and odds are that you are probably guilty of having at least one or two of these beliefs. (All of us are fallible, including psychologists and therapists.) See which ones resonate the most with you. Once you identify the one or ones which you display, pat yourself on the back because becoming aware of these patterns is the first step to changing them.
With this distorted belief, we arrive at a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we convince ourselves that it will happen every time. For example, if your last date didn’t want to kiss you at the end of the evening, you overgeneralize the situation and tell yourself “No one is attracted to me.” The healthy way to frame the experience: “I don’t know why she didn’t like me, but people have liked me in the past, and someone will inevitably like me again in the future.”
Jumping to Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions represents one of the most common mistakes men and women make in dating, falling prey to the belief that they have x-ray vision and can see what someone else thinks and feels. Without your date saying anything, you know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. The tendency to jump to conclusions and convince yourself that you know what the other person thinks or feels represents a distorted belief because you simply cannot know what someone new thinks or feels. Why? Because you hardly know that person! Plain and simple, you have a distorted belief.
Men and women who present the next distorted belief, catastrophizing, tend to be overly emotional. They may be drama queens or attention seekers, or they may have anxiety, profound insecurities, or bad tempers. Regardless of the specifics, they are emotional people and can be highly emotionally reactive. With this distorted belief, you are always waiting for disaster to strike. For example, the guy you have gone out with a few times suddenly stops responding to your calls and texts for a day. Because your distorted belief system causes you to see everything as a potential catastrophe, you instantly tell yourself that he lost interest, broke up without even telling you, and is probably getting back together with his ex-girlfriend. People who have this distorted belief – that a catastrophe awaits around any corner – tend to have intense highs and lows in their dating relationships.
Personalizing reflects another distorted belief that impacts many men and women in dating. Personalizing refers to the tendency to take something personally that may not be personal. For example, you call the woman you just started dating on the phone and she sounds distracted and irritated, so you personalize the situation and have the distorted belief that the way she acted with you had to do with the way she feels about you. The healthy reaction: “I don’t know her very well so I can’t be sure what to make of her mood, so I will wait a day and things will probably go back to normal.”
The takeaway message
Overall, most of us are guilty of having some distorted beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us. The goal isn’t to have perfectly happy and normal beliefs all the time, but to catch ourselves when our thinking might be getting a little off-track. Keep an eye on your tendency to indulge in any of these four distorted beliefs, and you will have a much less anxious – and more fulfilling – time dating.
About the Author:
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve