10 Cognitive Distortions You'll Learn About in Therapy (2023)

Cognitive distortions are negative or irrational patterns of thinking. These negative thought patterns can play a role in diminishing your motivation, lowering your self-esteem, and contributing to problems like anxiety, depression, and substance use.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach that helps people recognize these cognitive distortions and replace them with more helpful, realistic thoughts.

This article discusses different types of cognitive distortions including defining what they are, how they work, and offering hypothetical examples to show how this kind of thinking affects behavior.

All-or-Nothing Thinking

All-or-nothing thinkingis also known as black and white thinking or polarized thinking. This type of thinking involves viewing things in absolute terms: Situations are always black or white, everything or nothing, good or bad, success or failure.

All-or-nothing thinking is associated with certain mental health conditions, including narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

For example, Joan feels like a failure at school. Every time she makes a mistake, instead of acknowledging the error and trying to move past it, she gives up and assumes that she'll never be able to do well.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it doesn't allow any room to acknowledge anything between the two extremes. It can impair your motivation and confidence and make it hard to stick to long-term goals.

For example, instead of sticking to a healthy eating plan, you might throw up your hands and call yourself a failure every time you deviate from your plan. Or you might feel like starting a new workout plan is hopeless because you think that if you can't stick to it 100%, then you are a failure.

CBT works to overcome this type of cognitive distortion by helping you recognize that success and progress are not all-or-nothing concepts. By addressing this type of thinking and replacing self-defeating thoughts, you can feel better about your progress and recognize your strengths.

(Video) Cognitive Distortions: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques 18/30

Overgeneralization

Overgeneralization happens when you make a rule after a single event or a series of coincidences. The words "always" or "never" frequently appear in the sentence. Because you have experience with one event playing out a certain way, you assume that all future events will have the same outcome.

For example, Ben has inferred from a series of coincidences that seven is his lucky number and has overgeneralized this to gambling situations involving the number seven, no matter how many times he loses.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it doesn't account for differences between situations as well as the role that chance or luck can play. This thinking can have a number of consequences on how people think and act in different situations.

Overgeneralization is associated with the development and maintenance of different anxiety disorders. When people have a bad experience in one situation, they assume that the same thing will happen again in the future.

Research also suggests that this type of cognitive distortion is common in people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Generalizing fear from one situation to future events can create feelings of anxiety, which often leads to avoidance of those situations.

Mental Filters

A mental filter is the opposite of overgeneralization, but with the same negative outcome. Instead of taking one small event and generalizing it inappropriately, the mental filter takes one small event and focuses on it exclusively, filtering out anything else.

This type of cognitive distortion can contribute to problems including addiction, anxiety, poor self-belief, and interpersonal problems, among other issues.

For example, Nathan focuses on all of the negative or hurtful things that his partner has said or done in their relationship, but he filters all the kind and thoughtful things his partner does. This thinking contributes to feelings of negativity about his partner and their relationship.

Filtering out the positive and focusing on the negative can have a detrimental impact on your mental well-being. One study found that when people focused only on negative self-beliefs, it contributed to feelings of hopelessness and increased the risk of suicidal thinking.

Discounting the Positive

Discounting the positive is a cognitive distortion that involves ignoring or invalidating good things that have happened to you. It is similar to mental filtering, but instead of simply ignoring the positives, you are actively rejecting them.

For example, Joel completes a project and receives an award for his outstanding work. Rather than feeling proud of his achievement, he attributes it to pure luck that has nothing to do with his talent and effort.

(Video) What are Cognitive Distortions?

When people use this cognitive distortion, they view positive events as flukes. Because these positives are always seen as anomalies, they don't expect them to happen again in the future.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it undermines your faith in your abilities. Rather than recognizing your strengths, you assume that you aren't competent or skilled—you just got lucky.

When you discount the positive and challenges arise, you won't have faith in your ability to cope or overcome them. This lack of faith in yourself can lead to a sense of learned helplessness where you assume there is no point in even trying to change the outcome.

Jumping to Conclusions

There are two ways of jumping to conclusions:

  • Mind reading: When you think someone is going to react in a particular way, or you believe someone is thinking things that they aren't
  • Fortune telling: When you predict events will unfold in a particular way, often to avoid trying something difficult

Here's an example: Jamie engaged in fortune-telling when he believed that he wouldn't be able to stand life without heroin. In reality, he could and he did.

How to Stop Jumping to Conclusions

Magnification

Magnification is exaggerating the importance of shortcomings and problemswhile minimizing the importance of desirable qualities. Similar to mental filtering and discounting the positive, this cognitive distortion involves magnifying your negative qualities while minimizing your positive ones.

When something bad happens, you see this as "proof" of your own failures. But when good things happen, you minimize their importance. For example, a person addicted to pain medication might magnify the importance of eliminating all pain, and exaggerate how unbearable their pain is.

This thinking can affect behavior in a variety of ways. It can contribute to feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic because it causes people to exaggerate the importance of insignificant problems.

People sometimes believe that other people notice and judge even small mistakes. At the same time, they will minimize their own ability to cope with feelings of stress and anxiety, which can then contribute to increased anxiety and avoidance.

(Video) 10 Cognitive Distortions That Cause Anxiety - Learn these to stop anxiety at the source

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is a way of judging yourself or your circumstances based on your emotions. For instance, Jenna used emotional reasoning to conclude that she was a worthless person, which in turn led to binge eating.

This type of reasoning assumes that because you are experiencing a negative emotion, it must be an accurate reflection of reality. If you feel experience feelings of guilt, for example, emotional reasoning would lead you to conclude that you are a bad person.

This type of thinking can contribute to a number of problems including feelings of anxiety and depression. While research has found that this distortion is common in people who have anxiety and depression, it is actually a very common way of thinking that many people engage in.

Cognitive behavior therapy can help people learn to recognize the signs of emotional reasoning and realize that feelings are not facts.

"Should" Statements

"Should" statements involve always thinking about things that you think you "should" or "must" do. These types of statements can make you feel worried or anxious.

They can also cause you to experience feelings of guilt or a sense of failure. Because you always think you "should" be doing something, you end up feeling as if you are always failing.

These statements are self-defeating ways we talk to ourselves that emphasizeunattainable standards. Then, when we fall short of our own ideas, we fail in our own eyes, which can create panic and anxiety.

An example: Cheryl thinks that she should be able to play a song on her violin without making any mistakes. When she does make mistakes, she feels angry and upset with herself. As a result, she starts to avoid practicing her violin.

Labeling

Labeling is a cognitive distortion that involves making a judgment about yourself or someone else as a person, rather than seeing thebehavior as something the person did that doesn't define them as an individual.

You might think of this cognitive distortion as an extreme type of all-or-nothing thinking because it involves attaching a label to someone that offers no room for anything outside of that narrow, restrictive box.

For example, you might label yourself as a failure. You can also label other people as well. You might decide that someone is a jerk because of one interaction and continue to judge them in all future interactions through that lens with no room for redemption.

(Video) Cognitive Distortions

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10 Cognitive Distortions You'll Learn About in Therapy (1)

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Personalization and Blame

Personalization and blame is a cognitive distortion whereby you entirely blame yourself, or someone else, for a situation that in reality involved many factors that were out of your control.

For example, Anna blamed herself for her daughter's bad grade in school. Instead of trying to find out why her daughter is struggling and exploring ways to help, Anna assumes it is a sign that she is a bad mother.

Personalization and blame cause people to feel inadequate. It can also lead to people experiencing feelings of shame and guilt.

Blame can also be attributed to others. In some cases, people will blame other people while ignoring other factors that could potentially play a role in the situation. For example, they might blame their relationship problems on their partner without acknowledging their own role.

A Word From Verywell

Cognitive distortions are the mind’s way of playing tricks on us and convincing us of something that just isn’t true. While many cognitive distortions are common, there are some that can indicate a more serious condition and take a toll on mental health, leading to an increase in symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression.

If you think that cognitive distortions may be altering your sense of reality and are concerned about how these thoughts may be negatively affecting your life, talk to your healthcare provider or therapist. Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy are helpful and can help you learn to think in ways that are more accurate and helpful.

FAQs

What is cognitive distortions in Counselling? ›

People sometimes experience cognitive distortions — thought patterns that create a distorted, unhealthy view of reality. Cognitive distortions often lead to depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and self-defeating behaviors. Some examples of cognitive distortions include: black-and-white thinking. catastrophizing.

What are thinking errors in cognitive Behavioural therapy? ›

Thinking Errors – also known as Cognitive Distortions – are irrational and extreme ways of thinking that can maintain mental and emotional issues. Anxiety, low mood, worry, anger management issues are often fuelled by this type of thinking.

What is cognitive distortion examples? ›

For example, “I feel like a bad mother, therefore I must be a bad mother.” This kind of thinking can be harmful as it may lead to irrational decision making and judgements. Eating disorders and other behavior changes may come from emotional reasoning.

What are the most common cognitive disorders? ›

Cognitive Disorders

Alzheimer's disease. Attention deficit disorder. Dementia with Lewy bodies disease. Early onset dementia.

What are cognitive distortions Psychology Today? ›

Cognitive distortions are patterns of thought that we believe to be true despite having no basis in fact. There are 10 common distortions, including all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing, catastrophizing, and using "should" statements. Becoming aware of cognitive distortions is the first step of overcoming them.

Is overthinking a cognitive distortion? ›

These types of thoughts fall into the category of overthinking, which can usually be described as negative thinking patterns or cognitive distortions. If any of these patterns describe you, you're not alone. According to Tseng and Poppenk (2020), the average human being has at least 6,200 thoughts daily.

How do I reframe thoughts on my CBT? ›

CBT and Reframing Thoughts With Cognitive Restructuring - YouTube

What are the different CBT techniques? ›

Some of the techniques that are most often used with CBT include the following 9 strategies:
  • Cognitive restructuring or reframing. ...
  • Guided discovery. ...
  • Exposure therapy. ...
  • Journaling and thought records. ...
  • Activity scheduling and behavior activation. ...
  • Behavioral experiments. ...
  • Relaxation and stress reduction techniques. ...
  • Role playing.
12 Dec 2019

How do you challenge cognitive distortions? ›

Getting carried away with cognitive distortions can be easy. Recognizing the unhelpful thoughts you may be having at each moment is a key step to challenging them. It can also help to ask yourself questions that challenge those thoughts. This helps create an opportunity to build a more balanced perspective.

Is cognitive distortions a mental illness? ›

Distorted thinking, also called cognitive distortions, is a pattern of inaccurate, damaging thoughts. Distorted thinking is a common symptom of many different mental health disorders, including both generalized and social anxiety and personality disorders.

Can I do cognitive behavioral therapy on my own? ›

If you've wanted to try CBT for anxiety or depression but aren't able to see a CBT therapist, you may not need to. Many studies have found that self-directed CBT can be very effective.

What are examples of thinking errors? ›

Tweet This
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking. Sometimes we see things as being black or white. ...
  • Overgeneralizing. It's easy to take one particular event and overgeneralize how it applies to other situations. ...
  • Filtering Out the Positive. ...
  • Mind-Reading. ...
  • Catastrophizing. ...
  • Emotional Reasoning. ...
  • Labeling. ...
  • Fortune-telling.
13 Jun 2014

What are examples of irrational thoughts? ›

II. What are some examples of irrational beliefs?
  • I do not deserve positive attention from others.
  • I should never burden others with my problems or fears.
  • I am trash.
  • I am uncreative, nonproductive, ineffective, and untalented.
  • I am worthless.
  • I am the worst example on earth of a person.

Why do we develop cognitive distortions? ›

As conscious beings we are always interpreting the world around us, trying to make sense of what is happening. Sometimes our brains take 'short cuts' and generate results that are not completely accurate. Different cognitive short cuts result in different kinds of bias or distortions in our thinking.

What is an example of emotional reasoning? ›

Examples of Emotional Reasoning

Signs of emotional reasoning include thoughts like “I feel guilty, so I must have done something bad,” “I'm feeling inadequate, so I must be worthless,” or “I feel afraid, so I must be in a dangerous situation.”

What is always being right cognitive distortion? ›

Always Being 'Right'

This thinking pattern causes a person to internalize his or her opinions as facts and fails to consider the feelings of the other person in a debate or discussion. This cognitive distortion can make it difficult to form and sustain healthy relationships.

Is ADHD a cognitive disorder? ›

Many adults and children living with ADHD never have had significant behavior problems; they have difficulty focusing their attention on necessary tasks and using working memory effectively, making ADHD a cognitive disorder, a developmental impairment of executive functions (EFs) — the self-management system of the ...

What is the 5 word memory test? ›

The 5-Word test is a bedside memory test with free and cued selective recollection. Here, we evaluated its reliability Belgian French speakers. Five groups were studied : normal subjects, depressive patients, patients with AD, patients with vascular dementia and 47 patients for a validation of a logistic model.

What are the three main cognitive disorders? ›

Abstract. Cognitive disorders include dementia, amnesia, and delirium.

What is the root of cognitive distortions? ›

Perfectionism lies at the root of cognitive distortions and it's a terrible taskmaster. Expecting perfection from flawed human beings isn't nice. Being human means we do great things and we do hurtful things. We need forgiveness from each other and ourselves.

How do cognitive distortions cause emotional distress? ›

Cognitive distortions are negatively biased errors in thinking that are purported to increase vulnerability to depression (Dozois & Beck, 2008). Individuals experience automatic thoughts in response to events, which in turn lead to emotional and behavioral responses.

What is blaming cognitive distortion? ›

In most situations, blaming as a cognitive distortion involves assigning guilt or responsibility for how we feel to someone else. “He makes me feel bad about myself,” for instance, or “She makes me feel inadequate”.

How do I know if I have cognitive distortions? ›

The main cognitive distortions are as follows (and some of them overlap): Black-and-white (or all-or-nothing) thinking: I never have anything interesting to say. Jumping to conclusions (or mind-reading): The doctor is going to tell me I have cancer. Personalization: Our team lost because of me.

How do you reframe negative thoughts? ›

So let's dig deeper: How exactly do we reframe these negative thoughts?
  1. Awareness. Focus on your awareness of your negative thinking traps. ...
  2. Ask Questions. Literally, ask yourself questions to get a better understanding of how to cognitively cope with this negative thought. ...
  3. Come up with an alternative view (REFRAME)

What is maladaptive thinking? ›

cognitive psychotherapy

Maladaptive thinking may refer to a belief that is false and rationally unsupported—what Ellis called an “irrational belief.” An example of such a belief is that one must be loved and approved of by everyone in order to…

What are the 4 steps of cognitive restructuring? ›

Handout 28 provides a worksheet for using the 5 Steps of CR to address an upsetting feeling in a specific situation.
  • STEP 1: THE SITUATION. In Step 1, you write down the upsetting situation. ...
  • STEP 2: THE FEELING. ...
  • STEP 3: THE THOUGHT. ...
  • STEP 4: EVALUATE THE THOUGHT. ...
  • STEP 5: MAKE A DECISION.

What is the best example of reframing? ›

One example of reframing is redefining a problem as a challenge. Such a redefinition activates a different way of being. Problem has a heavy quality to it, while the notion of a challenge is enlivening. Another example and an extremely important opportunity for reframing occurs during an angry interchange.

What are the three steps of reframing? ›

Here's how we teach this skill in DBT at the teen support center:
  • Observe: Notice the body sensations, emotions and thoughts that arise from your experience. ...
  • Describe: Put words to your experience and use NON-JUDGMENTAL language and just the objective facts. ...
  • Participate:
22 Oct 2018

What is the main technique in CBT therapy? ›

One popular technique in CBT is ABC functional analysis. This technique helps you (or the client) learn about yourself, specifically, what leads to specific behaviors and what consequences result from those behaviors.

What are the 3 types of cognitive therapies? ›

Cognitive Therapy (CT) Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

What are the four most important physical techniques in CBT? ›

This chapter reviews some of the physical approaches that supplement the cognitive and behavioural repertoire: specifically, relaxation, controlled breathing, exercise and applied tension.

What are the six steps to overcome negative thoughts? ›

6 Tips for Overcoming Negative Thinking
  1. Replace Negativity in Your Surroundings. What you let into your mind in your everyday life can have an impact on your thoughts. ...
  2. Exercise. ...
  3. Talk It Over. ...
  4. Find a Way to Serve. ...
  5. Find a Way to Be Grateful. ...
  6. Write Down What You Are Feeling.
8 Oct 2019

What is cognitive refocusing in therapy? ›

Cognitive restructuring, or cognitive reframing, is a therapeutic process that helps the client discover, challenge, and modify or replace their negative, irrational thoughts (or cognitive distortions; Clark, 2013).

Is depression a cognitive distortion? ›

Abstract. Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, but is often underdiagnosed and undertreated. Cognitive behavioural therapy holds that individuals with depression exhibit distorted modes of thinking, that is, cognitive distortions, that can negatively affect their emotions and motivation.

Does depression cause cognitive distortion? ›

According to 2018 research, self-report data suggests that cognitive distortions are more commonly seen in people with depression than those without. And an international 2020 study notes that negative thoughts are a “hallmark feature” of depression.

How do you stop Overgeneralizing? ›

Here are some options:
  1. Think through the accuracy of the statement. When you catch yourself using words like “always” or “never,” stop yourself and ask those words are accurate. ...
  2. Replace that overly broad language with something more realistic. ...
  3. Do not minimize the pattern either. ...
  4. Keep practicing.
1 Aug 2019

What is an example of catastrophizing? ›

Here are some examples of catastrophizing: “If I fail this test, I will never pass school, and I will be a total failure in life.” “If I don't recover quickly from this procedure, I will never get better, and I will be disabled my entire life.”

Is overthinking a cognitive distortion? ›

These types of thoughts fall into the category of overthinking, which can usually be described as negative thinking patterns or cognitive distortions. If any of these patterns describe you, you're not alone. According to Tseng and Poppenk (2020), the average human being has at least 6,200 thoughts daily.

Is cognitive distortions a mental illness? ›

Distorted thinking, also called cognitive distortions, is a pattern of inaccurate, damaging thoughts. Distorted thinking is a common symptom of many different mental health disorders, including both generalized and social anxiety and personality disorders.

Why do people have cognitive distortions? ›

As conscious beings we are always interpreting the world around us, trying to make sense of what is happening. Sometimes our brains take 'short cuts' and generate results that are not completely accurate. Different cognitive short cuts result in different kinds of bias or distortions in our thinking.

What are thinking traps? ›

Thinking traps are patterns of thought – usually with a negative swing – which prevent us from seeing things as they really are. Otherwise known as cognitive distortions, thinking traps are often deeply ingrained in our psyche.

Is catastrophizing a trauma response? ›

Summary. Catastrophizing is when you think something, someone, or a situation is way worse than what the reality actually is. It's associated with some mental illnesses like anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

What mental illness is catastrophic thinking? ›

Catastrophizing is associated with depression as well as anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), PTSD, and OCD. A 2015 study looked at 2,802 teenagers and found that those who tended to catastrophize were more likely to have anxiety disorders.

How do I know if I have cognitive distortions? ›

The main cognitive distortions are as follows (and some of them overlap): Black-and-white (or all-or-nothing) thinking: I never have anything interesting to say. Jumping to conclusions (or mind-reading): The doctor is going to tell me I have cancer. Personalization: Our team lost because of me.

What is the root of cognitive distortions? ›

Perfectionism lies at the root of cognitive distortions and it's a terrible taskmaster. Expecting perfection from flawed human beings isn't nice. Being human means we do great things and we do hurtful things. We need forgiveness from each other and ourselves.

What is blaming cognitive distortion? ›

In most situations, blaming as a cognitive distortion involves assigning guilt or responsibility for how we feel to someone else. “He makes me feel bad about myself,” for instance, or “She makes me feel inadequate”.

Is depression a cognitive distortion? ›

Abstract. Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, but is often underdiagnosed and undertreated. Cognitive behavioural therapy holds that individuals with depression exhibit distorted modes of thinking, that is, cognitive distortions, that can negatively affect their emotions and motivation.

How do you challenge cognitive distortions? ›

9 Tips to Change Negative Thinking
  1. How do you know if you're using cognitive distortions? Well, you definitely are! ...
  2. Read yourself by checking in. ...
  3. Identify your most-used distorted thoughts. ...
  4. Changing roles. ...
  5. Examine the evidence. ...
  6. Sum of its parts. ...
  7. Avoid the urge to generalize. ...
  8. Skip speculation.

How do cognitive distortions cause emotional distress? ›

Cognitive distortions are negatively biased errors in thinking that are purported to increase vulnerability to depression (Dozois & Beck, 2008). Individuals experience automatic thoughts in response to events, which in turn lead to emotional and behavioral responses.

How can I improve my cognitive thinking? ›

Small changes may really add up: Making these part of your routine could help you function better.
  1. Take Care of Your Physical Health.
  2. Manage High Blood Pressure.
  3. Eat Healthy Foods.
  4. Be Physically Active.
  5. Keep Your Mind Active.
  6. Stay Connected with Social Activities.
  7. Manage Stress.
  8. Reduce Risks to Cognitive Health.
15 Sept 2022

How do cognitive distortions affect relationships? ›

Cognitive distortions in relationships are often bad news. They can cause you to view your partner negatively and expect the worst possible outcome in all scenarios. If you struggle with distorted thinking patterns in your relationship, you may have an underlying mental health condition like anxiety or depression.

How do you reframe all or nothing thinking? ›

3 ways to overcome all-or-nothing thinking
  1. Try re-labeling your thoughts. When you notice that you've assigned meaning to a situation, call yourself out on it. ...
  2. Get some perspective. You've identified that you're thinking about something in an unhelpful way. ...
  3. Reframe the thought.
9 Mar 2022

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