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The Basics Of Cognitive Restructuring

re-thinkIf you’re familiar with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), then you’ll be more apt to understand cognitive restructuring, as it is a core ingredient.  CBT is quite popular in the therapy field and a leading treatment for anxiety disorders, depression, and more disorders.

Cognitive restructuring is a process of observing, identifying, and modifying irrational thoughts that don’t serve an individual. It is a process that promotes accurate thinking. Let’s face it: Sometimes we tend to get some thoughts up in our head that just aren’t serving us well and oftentimes they’re just plain irrational.  Have you ever worried so much that you couldn’t eat or sleep and then everything turned out alright and you thought to yourself, “Why on earth did I worry so much?”

A therapist who uses cognitive restructuring will use various methods like Socratic questioning, guided imagery, CBT, and rational emotive therapy (RET) to get to the bottom of an individual’s thought life and get it where it ought to be.


CBT asserts that the emotions we feel and the behaviors that arise from emotions are due to the beliefs that we hold about ourselves, people, and the world.  Our thoughts play a much more important role than we give them credit for.  They shape our interpretations and evaluations and occasionally they can be distorted, biased, or negative.  This can often result in negative moods, suffering, and so on.

Cognitive restructuring is a technique that is used to help others become more aware of thoughts and changing them if need be.  It helps people to change irrational thoughts to rational thoughts and negative mindsets to positive mindsets.

An example

Let’s say you’re talking to your best friend while out at a party.  Your friend keeps looking across the room while you’re sharing a real concern with him or her.  They are not acting interested in what your problem is.  How would you feel? What would your thoughts be?

This situation is intentionally ambiguous and I’m sure could be interpreted in different ways.  Life is like this a lot of the time.  We get into a situation and could think different things about it, but choose to think one set of thoughts for one reason or another.  Here is how several people could interpret the illustration.

Person A could think that your friend is acting quite rude by ignoring your issue.  They will probably be hurt, offended, or annoyed at their best friend.  Person B might think that their problems aren’t worth listening to. They think “No one cares about me and my problems” and tend to feel depressed feelings.  Lastly, Person C might think that their best friend must have a problem to be acting in such a manner. They might wonder what stress is going on or who is at the party that is causing her to be so distracted.

The object of this illustration is that different people can have different interpretations of the behavior. Their pattern of thoughts tend to be just that: a pattern.  Person A, who ended up getting sad and depressed, probably has a negative thought pattern often. Person B, who had low self-worth, probably has a thought life that revolves around how unlovable he or she is.  Person C, who thought her friend must have a real problem in order to act so indifferent, probably tends to be more optimistic in the thought life.   The thought patterns are what CBT is after and those who use this type of therapy want to help people become aware of their dysfunctional belief patterns and change them.

It was Albert Ellis who came up with CBT and proposed that it was thoughts that influenced emotions. His ABC model portrays this theory well.  “A” signifies the situation that tends to trigger a cognitive, emotional, or behavioral reaction. “B” signifies the beliefs and “C” signifies the consequence of the interpretation or how one reacts to it.

Kinds of distortions cognitive restructuring helps

All-or-nothing thinking:  Those who think this way think in black-and-white or absolutes instead of on a spectrum. For example, if an argument occurs in a relationship, the person sees the relationship as being bad “all the time.”

Overgeneralization:  Using words like always, never, everyone, all, nobody, etc.  It’s irrational type of thinking.

Magnification or minimization: Here you basically magnify the negative and minimize the positive.

Discount the positive:  You minimize the positive so you can keep believing the negative. For example, if you do a good deed, you discount it by saying it didn’t matter or wasn’t important.

Mental filter:  This is when you zero in on one negative thing and think about it over and over, thus distorting your perspective because you eliminate other things that could be positive.

Mind reading:  You make conclusions based upon your perceptions, but without any real evidence. You just assume.

Emotional reasoning:  This is when you believe that your negative emotions are the reasons you feel the way you do. You feel something and therefore it must be true.

Fortune telling: Here you feel like everything will turn out terrible before the event even occurs. You foretell the future based solely upon your thoughts and feelings.

Perfectionism:  Thinking that you have to be perfect, saying “I should” or “I must” a lot.

Where do these irrational thoughts come from?

Many times irrational cognitive distortions originate in childhood and are carried over into the adult life.  They may also come from a stressful situation like an abusive relationship personally or intimately.  Not all negative emotions are a bad thing though, as sometimes anger or fear – in the right context – serve as signals that help you to protect yourself.

Cognitive restructuring

Basically, cognitive restructuring is a technique that aims to change distorted thoughts with accurate thoughts.  It is taking some time to gauge the mindset or thoughts, determining if they are rational or distorted, and if they are, changing them to thoughts that are useful.

Therapists help individuals become observers of their thoughts and assist them in being able to recognize when their thoughts are off.  When they are, they are given tools to be able to restructure or modify their thoughts so that they are rational and helpful.

For example, a client who is struggling with extreme jealousy in a relationship may be asked to write down thoughts that occur during a fit of jealousy.  He may write down “I know she will cheat on me! I can just feel it!  She hasn’t been that loving toward me and I just don’t feel her love anymore!”  This person needs to address these thoughts and ask himself some questions.

Perhaps he is completely overreacting and is struggling with low self-worth. As a result, he will look toward his girlfriend for security and affirmation and if he doesn’t feel like he’s getting it, he tends to think she is cheating on him. She may just be busy with a project around the house or going about her busy life and his thought life is running rampant.  Cognitive restructuring would be good for this man.

Cognitive restructuring is a technique that is used in CBT a lot and tends to produce favorable results.  It is possible to modify thought patterns, which can really impact the way someone lives and the emotions he or she feels.  In order for a happy and productive life, our thoughts and beliefs need to be rational and helpful – and they can be.

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Genius Awakening was created to lead people to a better understanding of self and others in order to navigate our world at a higher and more awakened level of being. Together we will explore the depths of consciousness in order to evolve beyond our current paradigms into a world of love, joy and peace. Oksana and Larry Ostrovsky are passionate guides of this space.