Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cause us to interpret situations in ways that are irrational, negative and self-defeating. These types of thoughts can be triggered by trauma or difficult life experiences and often lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety disorders and even eating disorders.

Black and white thinking.

Black and white thinking is when you see things in extremes. In other words, you’re either good or bad; right or wrong; success or failure.

People who tend to think this way are often very judgmental and critical of others, because they can only see things in black and white terms—there’s no middle ground.

The problem with black and white thinking is that it doesn’t allow for any room for grey areas or compromise, so it makes it difficult to deal with real-life situations that don’t have easy answers.


Overgeneralization is a cognitive distortion in which you see a single event as a never-ending pattern of behaviour. It is a type of mental filter that focuses on the negative and ignores the positive. Overgeneralization can be a form of black and white thinking, or dichotomous thinking. Dichotomous thinking refers to the practice of viewing things as all or nothing, with no grey areas in between; for example, someone might consider themselves “in love” with their partner and then decide that they are deeply unhappy after one argument with that person.

Although overgeneralizing may feel more accurate than generalizing (in which one doesn’t predict future events based on past ones), it’s still inaccurate because no two situations are exactly alike—and if you use this technique, your understanding may be distorted by negative biases like selective attention and loss aversion.


Filtering is the tendency to focus on the negative and overlook the positive. For example, if you’re going through a divorce, you might focus on how your kids are suffering and forget that they had a happy childhood before this difficult time in their lives.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of filtering — after all, no one likes to think about the bad stuff in life! The key is recognizing when it’s happening so that you can start focusing more on solutions instead of problems.

Disqualifying the positive.

You may have heard the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” This is an example of disqualifying the positive. You are so focused on what’s wrong that you are unable to see anything right.

It seems that most people do this in one form or another, though some more than others. The key to avoiding disqualifying the positive is recognizing it when it happens and making a concerted effort not to do it yourself.

Jumping to conclusions.

Jumping to conclusions is a common cognitive distortion. This is when we assume things about other people or situations without having all the facts. The person might jump to conclusions because they have low self-esteem, and think that other people are judging them negatively, or because they have depression and assume that others will reject them.

The way to counter this distortion is by recognizing it for what it is—a thought that has no basis in reality. When someone jumps to conclusions about you, try not to take it personally; instead, ask yourself if there’s any evidence behind their judgmental statement (there isn’t). If you find yourself jumping to conclusions about others’ motives or intentions, remind yourself that everyone acts based on their own experiences and perspectives; no one else has access to your thoughts except you!


Catastrophizing is the tendency to assume the worst possible outcome. It can lead to anxiety and depression, as well as procrastination.

For example, if you’re dating someone and they don’t text back right away, catastrophizers might assume that person is angry with them and will break up with them (this could be a sign of depression). Or if you aren’t sure whether or not your boss likes your work, catastrophizers might assume they hate it (this could be a sign of anxiety). Most people who suffer from difficulties in their lives often do so because they let such thoughts take over their minds until it becomes difficult for them to focus on anything else at all


Thought pattern:

  • It’s my fault.
  • I’m to blame.
  • I should have done something differently.

In this distortion, you believe that everything bad that happens is your fault and you take responsibility for it. This type of thinking can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and even self-hatred because you’re constantly blaming yourself for things that aren’t actually your fault at all! The truth is, sometimes things just happen, and we don’t know why—or how we could have prevented them from happening in the first place. But instead of dealing with these situations as they come up (like a cool adult), personalization encourages us to think about the past instead; “If only I had done x instead of y…” or “I should have known better than to do z!” Personalization also causes us to be overly self-critical when we make mistakes or fail at something; “Why did I do such an awful job?” etcetera…

Control fallacies.

What is the fallacy of control?

The fallacy of control is a cognitive distortion that occurs when a person feels that he or she is responsible for an outcome that was actually caused by chance. In other words, it’s when you think you have more of a say in something than there really is. You tend to see yourself as the cause when something good happens and also as being responsible for things going wrong.

For example, if it rains on your birthday but not on everyone else’s, you’re thinking may be, “If I hadn’t invited everyone over to my house then they wouldn’t have gotten wet!” When you feel this way it’s easy to get upset with yourself because the truth is: It doesn’t matter how many friends you invited over or where they were standing at the time – rain will fall just like water flows downhill no matter what we do!

The fallacy of fairness.

The Fallacy of Fairness is a distorted way of thinking that tells us we deserve more than what we have. It causes us to feel entitled to something better. We might expect the world and other people to treat us fairly, but in reality, there’s no such thing as fairness. The world is not fair and there are no guarantees for how much you can get or how others will treat you.

However, this doesn’t mean that people don’t have the right to demand equality or fairness from their government and employers; they do! However, if we expect perfect fairness from our relationships with others (or ourselves), then we set ourselves up for disappointment—and even resentment toward other people who don’t give us what we think they should be giving us at any given time.”

  • Blaming yourself for your problems is a very common cognitive distortion.
  • It’s also a common response for people with depression to blame themselves for their problems, but it’s important to be aware of this cognitive distortion and stop blaming yourself. When you begin thinking in this way, it’s helpful to think about how you are making negative assumptions about yourself based on very little evidence. These assumptions could be true or false; however, they aren’t always accurate and can lead us astray when we try to make decisions about ourselves or our lives in general.
  • One way you can replace this type of negative thought pattern with a more positive one is by asking yourself: “What evidence do I have that supports my belief?” If there is no evidence supporting the belief (which often happens), then ask yourself if there could possibly be another explanation for why something happened that doesn’t involve you as much as you think it does (e.g., maybe someone else was responsible).
It is possible to change these thoughts and look at them more objectively

You can change your distorted thoughts by learning how to look at the evidence. When you are inclined to think negatively, ask yourself:

  • “What is the evidence for these thoughts?”
  • “How does this thought make me feel?

Cognitive distortions can be a real problem, and they can hold you back from reaching your goals. Luckily, there are ways to put an end to them, such as by making a conscious effort to think rationally and logically about situations. The more you practice this approach in your daily life, the easier it will become for you!

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