Cognitive Distortions: Why you can’t believe everything you think

What are Cognitive Distortions?

The thoughts that pop into our brain are not always reliable.  Our brain can be biased in ways that are unhelpful and cloud our judgment and logical thinking. Ways our brain can be unreliable is referred to as Cognitive Distortions or Mind Traps. Cognitive Distortions are defined as: faulty or inaccurate thinking, perception, or belief. Sometimes this type of thinking can be a blip in time, but sometimes they can become a pattern or habit that negatively impacts our lives and relationships.

•Catastrophizing is when you believe the WORST possible outcome and believe you will not be able to handle it. It is an exaggerated perspective.

Example: “If I make one bad grade, I will not get into college” “I will never find anyone else if my partner leaves and I will never be happy again”

•Discounting Positives is when you think that your values or accomplishments don’t matter because you are chronically focusing on the negatives.

Example: “I only made third place, so it doesn’t count as a win” “Even though they invited me, they are just being nice and don’t really like me”

•Blaming is when we view others as the reason for emotional pain and deny taking any personal responsibility. We could be assigning guilt or responsibility for how we feel to someone else.

Example: “My teacher is the reason I am not doing well in this class” “They made me feel sad”

•Minimizing happens when we dismiss the importance of our personal qualities, achievements, or experiences. Downplaying our own strengths distorts the accuracy of our thinking.

Example: “Yes, I got a raise, but it wasn’t very big so I’m still not that good at my job”

•Unfair Comparisons happen when we place unrealistic standards on ourselves and compare ourselves to them. These unfair standards perpetuate feelings of inferiority.

Example: “Others my age are more successful than I am” “They are perfect”

•All or Nothing Thinking occurs when we see things as black and white; labeling people and even as good or bad and right or wrong. It is a distortion of thinking in absolutes.

Example: “It needs to be this way or not at all” “I’m always right” “I’m the worlds biggest failure”

•Shoulds are unspoken rules about how ourselves or other people should behave by using should or shouldn’t or must or have to in our reasoning. This puts unreasonable pressure on ourselves that can make us feel guilt or that we’ve failed.

Example: “They shouldn’t be so loud” “I have to go” “I must lose weight to be attractive”

•Personalization happens when we believe what others do or say is a personal reaction to you or believing something is all your fault. We blame ourselves for circumstances that are beyond our control or not our fault.

Example: “They posted that picture because they know I will see it” “I have to leave the party early or it will ruin everyone’s night”

•Labeling is when we assign negative judgement to ourselves or others based on a single event or behavior. We hyper focus on one characteristic and generalize it to the whole.

Example: “I got it wrong, I’m such a loser” “My voice is so annoying”

•Unfair comparisons are when we place unrealistic standards on ourselves and compare ourselves to them.

Example: “School comes so easy for them, I will never be that good” “They are perfect”

•Always Being Right is when we desire to prove to others that our thoughts or opinions are right without considering their point of view. This limits our ability to listen for comprehension to others versus waiting for our turn to speak.

Example: “I don’t want to fight, but I know I am right” “They know I don’t like that and did that on purpose to make me upset”

•Emotional Reasoning is thinking that our emotions are an accurate interpretation of reality without valid evidence.

Example: “I feel anxious I must be in danger” “They make me feel uncomfortable so they must be a bad person”

•Negative Filter is when we focus on the negatives and ignore the positives creating distorted perspectives.

Example: “I made a mistake now it is all ruined” “I’m a failure because I forgot a homework assignment”

What do I do about my cognitive distortions?

Being aware of them is the first step. You can’t address something outside of your awareness. If any of these distortions mentioned resonate with you, here are some questions you can ask yourself to challenge those thoughts and reveal the inaccuracies.

What Evidence do I have to support this thought or belief?

Is this thought helpful?

How do I know if this thought is accurate?

How can I test my belief or assumption to find out if they are accurate?

Do I have a trusted friend whom I can check these thoughts with?

Are there other ways that I can think about this situation or myself?

Am I blaming myself unnecessarily?

What or who else contributed to this situation?

Is it really in my control?

Am I making assumptions?

What would I say to a friend in this situation?

Can I look for “shades of gray”?

Am I assuming the worst?

Am I holding myself to an unreasonable or double standard?

Are there exceptions to these absolutes? (always, never)

Am I internalizing this and making it personal when it is not?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps work through these distortions and can help make you aware of how your thoughts impact your feelings and behavior. When you are able to change your thoughts you can interrupt the pattern and it can help you feel and act differently. The intention of CBT is to identify these distortions, challenge them, and replace them with more accurate thoughts, beliefs, and self-talk. If you would like to learn more about cognitive distortions, how to challenge them, and shift those thoughts to be more accurate or positive contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.




Arielle Teets