Understanding Mental Distortions

What are mental distortions and how do they affect depressed individuals?

A mental distortion occurs when a person’s perspective and/or thought patterns become irrational and therefore, unreliable and potentially damaging to one’s psyche.

A person with a mood disorder like clinical depression may suffer from one or many mental distortions, depending on his/her situation and life and how he/she is adapting to the rigors of recovering from the mood disorder itself.

What does a mental distortion look like?

A mental distortion, if examined from afar, may contain a kernel of truth or fact, but the “twist and turns” that the thoughts/ideas take make the resulting belief/perspective/idea unreliable in terms of understanding objective reality. Here are some examples of unreliable perspectives and thought patterns:

  1. Cherry-picking a situation. Cherry picking takes place when the depressed individual reformulates or reorients a situation based on a handful of facts. Other facts are discarded if they are not completely aligned with what the person wants to believe.
  1. Perfectionism. Perfectionism can destroy a person’s self-image and good relations with other people. A perfectionist is never truly happy because he/she often has unattainable goals that are beyond his/her capacity or resources to accomplish.

For example, a perfectionist may want to upgrade his/her looks so he/she can enter the modern dating world again with full confidence.

However, because of his/her perfectionism, he/she will always find flaws in his/her appearance. So no matter what hairstyle or clothes the perfectionist buys, there will always be something in his/her final projection that is “not perfect.”

The problem with the perfectionist’s conundrum is that his/her problem has no real solution because the idea of perfect is extremely subjective and the depressed individual may continue to move from one idea of perfect to the next, depending on his/her mood.

  1. Irrational conclusions. Irrational conclusions are related to cherry-picking. Essentially what happens is that a depressed person will start creating generalizations and conclusions about particular people, events and situations based on unfounded beliefs or ideas.

For example, let’s say that a depressed man tries driving for the first time in years and he crashes into a fence post. He then says “I’ve always been stupid with driving, I’ll never drive again.”

What’s wrong with this situation is that the person condemns the entire art of driving due to one mistake that he will likely be able to avoid in the future.

If this particular distortion continues in a person’s life, a person’s world will begin to shrink to the point that he/she would no longer feel motivated to reach out to people or try new things because of all the generalizations that he/she has made in the past.

  1. Fortune-telling tendencies. This distortion is tied to how a person perceives his/her future. A person might say something like “I don’t want to start dating again, because I am bound to be rejected no matter how hard I try to impress the ladies.”

A depressed person’s thoughts about his/her “fate” may be based on past negative experiences but what is missing from the equation is rationality and evidence, which should all be present before a person can make a logical/rational conclusion about something.

  1. The emotional rudder. There’s an old saying that goes “you should believe what you feel inside.” This is actually a form of mental distortion that is exceedingly dangerous for people with mood disorders because their whole emotional makeup is affected by their condition.

If you have been diagnosed with depression, know that your emotions may not always be based on realistic thoughts and that the very same emotions that are causing you to think in a particular manner are likely being generated by the chemical imbalances in your mind. Would you listen to a chemical imbalance instead of good sense? Of course not.

So when you feel angry for no reason, don’t let that anger guide your thoughts and emotions. Acknowledge what you feel but at the same time, be analytical and contemplative. Ask yourself questions like “why exactly am I feeling this way?” If you discover for yourself that your emotions have no logical foundation then it wouldn’t be so difficult letting go of them.

  1. Self-centration. This distortion makes a person feel that anything and everything that’s taking place in his/her environment is somehow connected or meant for him/her.

The problem with this distortion is that it encourages paranoid thoughts (e.g. “They must have been talking about me.”). You simply have to read the daily news to see how self-centration can result in severe interpersonal conflicts and even different kinds of crime. This distortion has to be remedied immediately with the help of the depressed person’s immediate support network.