Cognitive Distortions: Win against it

by Dandy

When you think about your negative thoughts do you see a possibility that your mind plays tricks on you?  Can you see how negative thinking can distort your view?  Cognitive distortions-where your mind puts a spin on the events we experience, and attaches a not-so-objective interpretation to what we experience.  These distortions of thinking happen all the time.  They are especially common in people with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. 

The theory of cognitive distortions came about in the 1960’s with Aaron T. Beck leading the way with his research.  Cognitive therapy has helped multitudes of people since then.

When we know to be aware of these thoughts, it becomes easy to see the cognitive distortions in ourselves and others.  Doing so in ourselves can bring lasting positive change in the way we experience stressors in our lives.

Here are the 10 most common (and officially recognized) cognitive distortions

  1. Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  2. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  3. Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  4. Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.                                                                                                               >>Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check it out.
    >>The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  5. Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
  6. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  7. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  8. Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  9. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.
  10. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these?  To conquer over negativity and depression/anxiety, we can and must stop these automatic thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.  We have the power to change negative thoughts.  We have the power to live a happier, more fulfilling life.

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55 Comments to “Cognitive Distortions: Win against it”

  1. Wow! At one time I could have put a big check mark next to each one. No wonder I was having anxiety and panic attacks!

    I do ocassionally find myself thinking in the old negative way but have learned to recognize this behavior and put a stop to it. But I do admit that sometimes the old way seems easier and safer,at least in the short term. I guess that thinking is what makes change hard.

    I am going to print this list and keep it where I can see it when I need a kick in the butt.

    • Hi Patricia,
      I’m glad you will print this out. Years ago a therepist of mine gave me a handout similar to this one and I kept it for a long time to remind myself how my mind is making distortions. It is difficult at first to change those thoughts, but it is absolutely worth the effort. I found it to be a life saver. Emotional mastery is possible. Easing our anxiety will happen by using our thoughts in our favor. Good luck to you Patricia! If there is any way I can help, please let me know! Take care!

  2. Dandy, you’ve hit on some good points. All of us have the temptation to fall into negative thoughts once in a while. The danger, as you said, is falling into a pattern.

    I have found that if I allowed myself to focus on negative thoughts, I tend to fall into the “overgeneralization” and “mislabeling” categories.

    I typically regard myself a positive person. I know the power of positive thoughts and the power of negative ones. And I choose to live accordingly. But how do you find is most effective to help those you’re closest to (a parent or close friend for example) who seem to be in an endless cycle? And what if they don’t buy into our message to change your thoughts? How have you found effective ways to help?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Bryan,
      Yes, it is difficult when we see that people are harming themselves with their thoughts. I see this in a close friend of mine. I think they just need to be in a place where they are ready for growth. Otherwise they aren’t open to improvement. I believe in not indulging them in their negative thoughts. If my friend says something negative, I tell her I disagree and put a positive light on it. She can take it or leave it. Her choice. Being supportive and understanding is being a good friend. I try not to give unsolicited advice. I have a wonderful therepist and I’m not afraid to let people know how she has improved my life and pass on her contact information to them. I try to lead by positive example. That’s all we can do sometimes! Thank for your wonderful question Bryan! Take care!

  3. Morning to you Dandy!

    Cool pic to greet me! It has anthropomorphistic imagery…actually a sword and it’s hand guard? Makes me also think of the robot from the Metropolis movie…ha…ha.

    I don’t see anything on your list that fits me very strongley…maybe…

    6.Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

    …just a bit being to hsp qualities…but just recognition and understanding blows this away quickly enough.

    Kind of like fishing. As one approaches the water each given time the “fly” will be different…one has to study the conditions cognitively and not rely on the “emotions” of the day.

    Regards to number 10…

    I recently took a test related to my job. You could not “fail” it. The test was just to give an indication of what areas need to be worked on. I view this as a “positive” step.

    Interesting how “fishing” stories have related to life…from biblical times, to stories like ‘The Old Man And The Sea’ or ‘A River Runs Through It’

    Must really be something to it…fishing…don’t you think?

    One never knows what the yield may be…but there can be something very “spiritual” about it no matter the catch of the day.

    Good luck…

    • Hi Rand,
      I hadn’t thought of #6 being like fishing. You are right. Very smart observations Rand. Thanks so much for your interesting and thought provoking comments! Take care!

  4. Love how you encourage others to stand back and consider things from new vantage points. I invite you (and anyone else interested) to check out this youtube clip with Esther Hicks about cognitive dissonance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-vghi6Az3g

  5. Hey Dandy,

    Thanks for the inspirational article!

    This is great stuff, because if you realize this then you will be one step ahead. I think it would benefit everyone to read this post. I’m sure I will be back to re read this when times get tough. In everyone journey to success there will always be negative moments, but you always have to look for the good hidden within the bad.

    Thanks again!

    God bless,
    William Veasley

    • Hi William,
      So glad you liked this. I think it does indeed help us to be one step ahead of our negative thoughts. If we understand the root of each negative thought we have then we can see how unserving they really are! Thanks for the great comment William. Take care!

      • Hey Dandy,

        Thanks for the response!

        I have came back to re read you article haha, once again great job! Yeah negative thoughts don’t get you anywhere you want to be, so why have them? When you think positive then good things usually follow. Even when times are tough you have to keep your head up and know your taking steps in the right direction. Enough of those steps and you’ll reach your destination.

        Just my 2 cents.

        Thanks again!

        God bless,
        William Veasley

      • Hi William,
        Thanks for your 2 cents:) You are right on the money! There are times it is hard to think positive, but that only means it must be really needed. When we understand where these negative thoughts are coming from than that only empowers us more. It is important to see that negativity makes things worse. Negative self-talk makes it all that much harder to cope when life is challenging enough as it is. Thanks for your comment William! Take care!

  6. Hello Dandy – you put together a very informative article. While reading each distortion, I can say that I experience a little of each. In many cases I can feel it happening, so I can make immediate adjustments…but I’m sure there are other times when I’m oblivious! Actually reading this post has heightened my awareness. Thanks for the gold nuggets.

    • Hi Jk!
      I’m so glad you found this helpful. Years ago when I recieved a handout from a therepist about cognitive distortion it was really a turning point for me. Having an understanding of the root of my negativity, gave me more control over the negative thoughts. I can still see myself in each of these too, but I am able to make adjustments very quickly. It is wonderful to really master those negative thoughts. It’s great to hear from you Jk! Take care!

  7. Hi Dandy,

    I suffer from Bipolar disorder, so it’s very common for me to let a single negative experience derail me in my life. It’s getting easier and easier though for me to predict when this is going to happen, because I’m at my most vulnerable to mood swings when I am in a good mood for seemingly no reason.

    Of course, this isn’t common for everyone, but I implore everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness or not, to work towards recognizing the patterns that they fall into when they have trouble achieving their goals. Your list is a great starting point for people to read and to see themselves in.

    As a matter of fact, I would like to write an article based off of yours. Do you have any sources for this information, or did you come up with it on your own? Regardless, this is really great information, and I thank you for posting it for me, and others to benefit from. Kudos!

  8. Wow Dandy!

    You really did your research. I noticed that there were a lot of things I did that placed myself in a negative thinking mode. This article is very informative and may help with my relationship with my wife. Awesome post!

    • Hi Elmer,
      I’m so glad you found this post helpful. Recognizing the root of my negativity has helped me in my personal relationships. I now have more control over the negativity now that I understand the root of it. It is amazing how our brains distort things. But we can get control over it. Thanks so much for reading my blog Elmer and leaving your great comment. I’d like to hear from you again! Take care!

      ~Dandy

  9. Dandy,
    I’m currently reading a book, “Manifesting Change”, by Mike Dooley (it’s excellent!) – and at its core, it is all about the power of our thoughts.

    So, very timely for me to read this by you today – and look at this thought process from a different angle.

    I do see where I sometimes fall into some of these, although I think I also do a better job today and not staying there too long (as opposed to earlier in my life, when I could get caught up in some of these for way too long…).

    • Hi Lance,
      I’m sure everyone can see themselves in one or more of these distortions. The more we understand the root of our negative thoughts the more control we have over them. The book you suggested sounds facinating. I’ll be sure to check that out! There was a time in my life I really wallowed in negativity and sought out counceling for my unhappiness. I was given a handout on cognitive distortions and was amazed at what I was doing to myself. It was a turning point for me! Thanks so much for your comment Lance. I appreciate it! Take care!

  10. Dandy, I’m impressed! This was a really thought-provoking read!

    Part of the reason I’m so impressed is because I see myself in a couple of these points, such as 4. Jumping To Conclusions, and 7. Should Statements. I hadn’t fully realised it before, but I see now that I’m making some decisions from negative thinking such as this.

    Thanks for sharing Dandy, you’re a star! 🙂

    • Hi Stuart!
      Thanks so much for your complimet. I’m smiling as I write this:) It is good to have a closer look at the distortions we have. It gives us even more control over the negativity! You’re a star too Stuart! Take care!

  11. Wow Dandy, that is an impressive list of distortions! I work with people a lot and that list will come in very handy.

    Negative thoughts affect us all and we all, I am sure, could choose an aspect from the list. I have been reading a little on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and that method is very effect with managing neagtive thoughts and therefore ‘removing’ those distortions.

    I think the comforting thing to know is that we all experience these things from time to time and it can be managed and and the power of these feeling reduced.

    • Hi Juanita,
      Yes, it’s true that we all do experience these distortions in thinking. Sometimes it is worse than other. I know I can see myself in each of the distortions. Understanding the distortions has really helped me manage my thinking. I’m on a positive track and I have a leg up on negativity because of my understanding of the distortions. I’m so glad you found this helpful Juanita! Thanks for your great comment!

  12. Hi Dandy,

    Very well written article 🙂 I believe we all experience negative thoughts from time to time. The key is to not let the majority of our thoughts be negative. Instead of having thoughts are 80% negative in our life and 20% positive, our thoughts should be a minumum 80% positive. When 80% or more of our thoughts are positive, then we are on the path to success and mental freedom. Thanks for sharing my friend 🙂

    • Hi Dia,
      I so agree with you! Our thoughts should definately contain more positive ones over the negative. I don’t know if it’s possible to think positive 100% of the time ( I certainly don’t). But when our thoughts run positive it makes a huge difference on the quality of our lives. Thanks so much for your great comment Dia!!!

  13. Dandy,
    THis is such a terrific post. I used to be the queen of catastrophizing!
    I quickly recognized where this was leading me…..went through 4 years of cognitive therapy and can tell anyone who has ever experienced panic or anxiety disorder that YOU CAN CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK!!!

    Thank you for the list…..I love having this in a place where I can frequently remind myself to stay in the NOW…healthy and present, with all the catastrophies behind me, no matter what is going on in my life:)
    Thanks Dandy!
    Jen

    • Hi Jen,
      Thanks for sharing that. It sounds as if cognitive therepy has really been life changing for you. It is so empowering to know that we can think our way out of negativity. Years ago when a therepist of mine gave me a handout on cognitive distortions, I was amazed at how I saw myself in everyone. It was a wake up call for me. Living life on the positive side has done wonders for me! I’m glad it’s done wonders for you too! Thanks Jen for your great comment!

  14. Hi Dandy,

    I am very familiar with cognitive distortions. When I was younger, I used to be depressed and brooded a lot. Whenever I faced challenges or difficulties, I always had a “why me” and “the world is unfair” kind of thinking. As such, I was always very grave and sombre and depressing to be with haha! I have had experiences with all of your 10 cognitive distortions. Sometimes I had all 10 at one go!

    But eventually, I learned to sort out my thoughts and master my emotions. You know how it is for HSPs, self-control and discipline is extremely important. And what a difference it has made. For example, the reason for my silence the last 2 days is because my website got hacked and I had to resolve the problem. The me of old would have been overwhelmed. But this time round, I just focused on the solution as I always like to say, and resolved the issue and took some steps to ensure that it is less likely to happen again. There are still a few things to iron out, I am a little fatigued by the tediousness of it all, but other than that, I am fine. So even if you have had cognitive distortions like me for almost 20 years, it is possible to master yourself.

    Thank you for sharing this article with us! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Hi Irving,
      Gosh, I’m sorry to hear about your blog troubles. It must be frustrating. I’m glad you have a mastery over thinking distortions. You can surely attest to how it improves the quality of life. I too had all these distortions when I was younger. I was a terribley negative teenager. These distortions really hurt and hindered my life. It sqewed my judgement awfully. I missed out on alot of wonderful opportunites. When I started to really understand how my thoughts were affecting my life, I started to turn my life around. Really it’s a blessing to have this mastery. I’m so glad you have experienced this mastery! Thanks for the comment. Good Luck my friend!

  15. Dandy,
    This is a great list to publish. Most are unaware of their participation in these. I’m guilty of ruminating on the fear of failure when it comes to my blog. Silly me!

  16. Oh my, you just described ME before I made a conscious decision to change my life. I could relate to every single cognitive distortion! Been there done that.

    How did I live like that?! It was so hard. Reading that list just makes me want to fall to my knees in gratitude for the life I have now.

    I’m going to print this list and take a look at it now and again as a reminder.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Galen,
      Yes, there was a time in my life where I lived out everyone of those awful distortions. I was just seeped in negativity and it was terrible for my life. When I sought out cognitive therepy I was given a handout on the distortions and it was the beginning of a life change. I too look at that list now and have a mixture of emotions, sadness for living like that for so long and overwhelming gratitude that I now have an understanding of the distortions and can control those thoughts more easily. It’s important to know which ones you are still prone too and to know what your triggers are. It is all the more empowering! Thanks Galen!

  17. Last comment on this topic–I promise! I just posted a follow up on substituting counter beliefs for our cognitive distortions. I would love to know what you think about it. You have sparked lots of great discussion! Here is the link. http://10stepstofindingyourhappyplace.blogspot.com/2011/01/counter-beliefs.html

  18. Hi! I’m new here. Actually your comment was over mine at lifeslittlelessons., lol so I thought I’d see who you were. GREAT post! I was born into a family of #1’s, lol. What a relief it is to have broken that pattern. I do believe all that will end with my generation, in my family. I learned early enough that I could incorporate this thinking into raising my own kids.

    • Hi Sheila,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to check out my blog. I’m a big fan of Jen’s! I’m glad you’ve been able to recognize the negativity these distortions have on us. I’m glad you’ve been open minded enough to question the way we think and change it around to where you can master the distortions. It’s wonderful your children can have you to look to when it comes to conquering negativity. I wish I had learned it a long time ago. Thanks again Sheila! I’d love to hear from you again! Take care!

  19. I know I’m late with the reply…but great post. We have to do our best to overcome pessimistic thoughts with positive affirmations. Love it Dandy!

  20. Dandy: Great information and so true. I really appreciated how you pointed out all the traps we can fall into as the result of automatic thoughts. It is easy to not even realize what we are feeding our energy into. Great point and information.

  21. hello dandy
    how are you?
    you should have written my assignment on counselling theories/approach last week because i had to make a lot of reference to aaron beck lol!!!
    anyway on a serious note, i found it informative and very useful.
    one thing i really struggled with was magnification & minimization. i really felt inadequate when it came to some of the achievements of others but as i grew older and became comfortable in my skin i discovered we are all unique and have got to make use of our individual oportunities.i also used to worry about my mistakes and blew them out of proportion but now knows better lol!!.
    take care of yourself and enjoy the rest of the day.

    • Hi Ayo!
      We can all see ourselves in this list. I’m glad you’ve been able to see where you tend to lean to and make modifications to your thinking to not fall into the trap. I too do the same thing with magnification/minimization. Your class sounds facinating Ayo! That’s cool your studying Aaron Beck! Thanks for your comment Ayo. It’s great to hear from you! Take care!

  22. Your 10 points are good. I think the main issue, is that much of this comes from our youth, and the formations created in our youth are quite powerful.

    Therefore, it is not logic that prevails, but the hard training that goes into the creation of mindsets and habits.

    Not an easy task, by no means.

    • Hi there,
      You are right, it isn’t an easy task. But we do not have to be victims of bad habits. It is so important for our well-being to fight against these distortions. They are not our reality. We can change our perceptions. We can manifest a positive energy that will give us happiness, satisfaction, and a high sense of self-esteem. We are worth these efforts and it can be done. Thanks so much for your comment! I’d like to hear from you again! Take care!

  23. Hi Dandy! Great post! I can certainly see the beauty and freeing ourselves from negative thoughts and patterns. These distortions are very common and most often we’re unaware of them. Bring awareness to these thought patterns can greatly increase our happiness.
    Thanks for this lovely reminder. Loving blessings!

  24. The over generalisation is a big one I see happening and I’m sure I’ve even said that in the past. The other one is the shoulds…it’s the shoulds vs the real passion and only when that true distinction is made can one move forward. It’s amazing when you read something like this is frames it in a way people can understand and that awareness is always a first big step.

    • Hi Amit,
      It’s true, awareness is a first step. When we see that these are indeed distortions and not reality we can start to see how we buy into the negativity without even meaning to. We have control over our thoughts. We are more than these distortions! Thanks Amit!

  25. You’ve hit a rich vein of truth here Dandy that will reassure many. I was once an anxiety filled depressive who was tricked by my mind to find the ‘wrong’, the failures, and the rotten. but I didn’t know why. Your post adds the ‘why’ for people and shows that feeling better and happier is only a few good thoughts away. Turn your thinking, turn the corner. Thank you for being a great big signpost towards sanity.

    • Hi John,
      Thanks so much for sharing. I can totally relate. When I was given a handout from a therepist about cognitive disorders, it really changed my life. I began to see that all my negativity was not reality. I could say no to the distortions and put a positive loving light on any and all situations. Thanks for your support John!

  26. Hi Dandy,

    Sometimes, I find myself thinking negative about things and then I snap out of it. It’s not always easy to think positive, but I’m learning that with all the negative things out here in the world, I can’t afford to be negative. Negative thinking and thoughts only sets us up for failure.

    Awesome information, Dandy!

    Evelyn

  27. Hi Dandy! Great list. We all tend to do this distortions, some distortions more than others. There are a few from your list that I catch myself doing now and then. It’s great to notice these so we can revert our thinking in time instead of persisting in the distortion.
    Thanks for this wonderful exercise in awareness. Loving blessings!

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