What is Cognitive Distortion and how does it relate to Narcissistic Abuse?
Cognitive distortion is a psychological term used to describe a person or group living under a distorted paradigm of belief. Narcissistic people who fall victim to people like stronger and more toxic gurus are typically the most guilty in the sheer statistical sense of believing they are entitled to special treatment.
For example, as in the case of following a specific religious teacher or graduating from a place like an Ivy League university, a person may suffer from the delusion they are better than or smarter than other people without ever bothering to verify their rudimentary assumptions by empirical inquiry into the truth of the matter that could net gain them information that by all rational and practical accounts should be useful.
Such people tend to have narcissistic tendencies already present in their social and emotional psychology inflated to such a point that they perceive themselves “above” others with regard to having rights without care, concern, or regard for other people’s very real human rights and needs. But there is an even darker and more twisted side (from a psychological standpoint) to cognitive distortion, namely in people who have more sinister personality types.
People who are anti-social, psychopathic, or Malignant Narcissists by nature are famous for bearing vendetta agendas against friends, family members, and even casual social acquaintances they believe have stolen their spotlight in some way, socially embarrassed them (accidentally or purposefully), or who have in their opinion wronged them in some way.
In their minds, the victims deserve abuse and to be targeted for harm. Conversely, a kind person who believes all human beings are like them by nature reverse projects their stereotypical assessment of basic human nature on to others.
People who have been conned in Love Fraud cases often have Cognitive Dissonance (an extreme form of Cognitive Distortion) related to their Abuser. Most form an image in their mind of the person who love-bombed them and told them incredible tales about their life and character based on their Abuser’s false promotions of themselves, their true nature, and their intentions.
Once Cognitive Distortions have formed in the mind of an individual, the mind tends to ignore or strive to refute all knowledge to the contrary of the projection. If someone thinks another person, for instance, has a low intellect), they are likely to keep treating them that way no matter what IQ tests, school systems, testing agencies, and co-workers think about the person; functionally speaking, the person who bears the distortion is likely to continue treating them as if they are stupid.
Regarding the definition of the twisty and irrational psychological phenomenon, they share, “Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that are believed to perpetuate the effects of psychopathological states, especially depression and anxiety. Psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck laid the groundwork for the study of these distortions, and his student David D. Burns continued research on the topic.
Most notably, Burns’ 1989 book, The Feeling Good Handbook presented information on these thought patterns along with a proposal of how to eliminate them.”
The site goes on to share, “Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cognitive therapists believe cause individuals to perceive reality inaccurately. These thinking patterns often are said to reinforce negative thoughts or emotions.
Cognitive distortions tend to interfere with the way a person perceives an event. Because the way a person feels intervenes with how they think, these distorted thoughts can feed negative emotions and lead an individual affected by cognitive distortions towards an overall negative outlook on the world and consequently a depressive or anxious mental state.
In a self-help article published on Psychology Today, the trusted psychiatry platform writer(s) note that there are common distortions many human beings suffer regardless of whether or not they have a personality disorder such as NPD, ASPD, BPD, or HPD.
Adding to the online community dialog about the subject, they share the following indicators that tend to reveal that a person’s thinking or emotional response to a topic of interest or another person’s mere existence is or has been corrupted [essentially polluted] with toxic thinking rooted in the dysfunctional psychological state.
They shared the following 15 traits of distorted states as follows:
Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions and David Burns was responsible for popularizing it with common names and examples for the distortions.
We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively so that their vision of reality becomes darkened or distorted.
2. Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking).
In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure — there is no middle ground. You place people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. A person may see a single, unpleasant event as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat.
4. Jumping to Conclusions.
Without individuals saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us.
For example, a person may conclude that someone is reacting negatively toward them but doesn’t actually bother to find out if they are correct. Another example is a person may anticipate that things will turn out badly, and will feel convinced that their prediction is already an established fact.
We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as “magnifying or minimizing.” We hear about a problem and use what if questions (e.g., “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”).
For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events (such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement). Or they may inappropriately shrink the magnitude of significant events until they appear tiny (for example, a person’s own desirable qualities or someone else’s imperfections).
With practice, you can learn to answer each of these cognitive distortions.
Personalization is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to the person. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc.
A person engaging in personalization may also see themselves as the cause of some unhealthy external event that they were not responsible for. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t have happened.”
7. Control Fallacies.
If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of fate. For example, “I can’t help it if the quality of the work is poor, my boss demanded I work overtime on it.” The fallacy of internal control has us assuming responsibility for the pain and happiness of everyone around us. For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”
8. Fallacy of Fairness.
We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us when we’re growing up and something doesn’t go our way, “Life isn’t always fair.” People who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it. Because life isn’t “fair” — things will not always work out in your favor, even when you think they should.
We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions.
We have a list of ironclad rules about how others and we should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules. A person may often believe they are trying to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they have to be punished before they can do anything.
For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” Musts and oughts are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When a person directs should statements toward others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment.
11. Emotional Reasoning.
We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we feel stupid and boring, then we must be stupid and boring. You assume that your unhealthy emotions reflect he way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
12. Fallacy of Change.
We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.
13. Global Labeling.
We generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment. These are extreme forms of generalizing, and are also referred to as “labeling” and “mislabeling.” Instead of describing an error in context of a specific situation, a person will attach an unhealthy label to themselves.
For example, they may say, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they failed at a specific task. When someone else’s behavior rubs a person the wrong way, they may attach an unhealthy label to him, such as “He’s a real jerk.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded. For example, instead of saying someone drops her children off at daycare every day, a person who is mislabeling might say that “she abandons her children to strangers.”
14. Always Being Right.
We are continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate our rightness. For example, “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going to win this argument no matter what because I’m right.” Being right often is more important than the feelings of others around a person who engages in this cognitive distortion, even loved ones.
15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy.
We expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone is keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.
A. T. Beck’s work defining Cognitive Distortion can be read in its entirety in the book “Cognitive Therapies and Emotional Disorders” published back in 1976.
Since the field of study related to Narcissistic Abuse is just emerging in pop culture, studious academicians who are seeking unique senior thesis topics or themes to research for graduate or postdoctoral studies are encouraged to consider adding new studies and papers on the phenomenon into the cultural dialog.
As many people who suffer from delusional disorders are normal (for the most part), opening a civic dialog regarding mental health issues alone — from a community service perspective — could be quite helpful.
However, to point out clearly that people with the most toxic and abusive of personality disorders (such as those people who are Malignant Narcissists, Narcopaths, Psychopaths (by nature) or Sociopaths (by nurture) tend to take distorted reality fantasies to the extreme is crucial to ending social and emotional terrorism around the world in affected relative’s homes and families.
With Cluster B personality types confirmed in 2015 to be on the rise, roughly 12-16% of the global population is likely to deliberately nurture and cultivate delusions as part of their own egocentric, entitlement-based thinking and grandiose fantasies.
Resist the urge to indulge people who exhibit caustic personality traits in engaging in aggressive, hostile, or socially inappropriate behavior, noting that the more social support to fan their delusions, the more likely they are to come after a target while verbally flaming or lashing out physically while feeling “morally justified”.
Compulsively attention-seeking, Cluster B people who are delusional or believe they are entitled to crush others at whim for fun and sport are the true criminals in the legal, moral, and spiritual sense.
Their targets and victims — whether a person they obsess over hating or a socio-economic group they hate — tend to suffer enormous amounts of fear and distress, seldom knowing or understanding why the delusional and self-entitled person has targeted them for Narcissistic Abuse.
Victim blaming and victim shaming allows monsters to go through life self-promoting while abusing others, pretending all the while the victim brought brutal punishment or traumatization on themselves in some past life. It’s truly ignorant to believe any victim of a crime or moral injustice deserves to suffer at the hand of fate.
All cognitive distortion does is mask a predator or psychologically growing person’s ability to connect the dots between very real personality issues.
Bringing the phenomenon to light and introducing the key phrase as a term commonly talked about without shaming a person who has fallen into the intellectual habit of considering fantasy as reality — for WHATEVER their reason — is essential to helping both abusive personality types and their targeted victims rehabilitate.
But truly… finding an intellectual moral ground and sanctuary of an emotional belief that allows human beings to embrace a more healthful and realistic perspective with regard to their psychological state can be a real gift. Trusting your intuition is key to Narcissistic Abuse recovery so don’t let the words in this article confuse the issue for victims.
Covert Narcissists and ALL Cluster B personality types might be charming and charismatic in public while being guilty in private of the most heinous of situational abuse. If someone gives you the heebie-jeebies or a bad feeling, trust it.
We’re NOT talking about minimizing fears of verifiably dangerous personality types while a victim’s intuition-confidence is undermined.
What we are talking about in the context of opening a Narcissistic Abuse dialog related to the psychiatric phenomenon of Cognitive Distortion is:
- Cluster B personality types obsess over hurting targets based on their own distorted beliefs that they have suffered something called a “Narcissistic Injury”
- Victims of situational abuse who are socially and emotionally traumatized tend to suffer from social anxiety and phobias as a natural self-defense mechanism tied with C-PTSD
- Healthy and toxic people alike all tend to misperceive social and emotional cues at times
Learning how to go through a strict regiment of logic as it applies to an emotional reaction to “rule out” distortions of a cognitive sort (for instance, over-reacting to a now moment incident because of a trigger formed in the past during a specific incident or series of unfortunate incidents where a person’s emotional body or psychology was traumatized) is simply a healthy intellectual habit.
The world is complicated enough to understand without the mind playing tricks on the emotional body of the user. Learn to trust your intuition but verify both objective facts and other people’s subjective experiences before ever engaging in the act of personalizing.