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What are cognitive distortions?

The APA defines cognitive distortions as “faulty or inaccurate thinking, perception, or belief. An example is overgeneralization. Cognitive distortion is a normal psychological process that can occur in all people to a greater or lesser extent.” Essentially, we all use these thought patterns at some point. However, when you tend to use them more consistently, things like depression, anxiety, or other related concerns may worsen.  This article will review 10 most common distortions. 

All or nothing thinking

 All or nothing thinking can also be known as black and white thinking or polarized thinking. This form of thinking is when you think in extremes. I can either be successful or a failure. I can either be good at track or I suck at it. If I miss 1 day of the gym, I shouldn’t go at all because my diet is ruined. This type of thinking can be unhelpful because reality often exists in the grey area.


Overgeneralizing is when you see a single event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. This means you are applying one experience you had from one event to another.  You get in line at the checkout and notice the line is longer and think you always pick the slowest line. You have a negative experience in a friendship and think you aren’t good at friendships at all. Words to be mindful of using that can be unhelpful and generalizing are: Always, never, everyone, nobody. 

Mental Filter

When you are using mental filter, you are seeing things through a negative lens while ignoring the positives. You focus on a correction your boss says you need to make and ignore the positive feedback he also gave you. Focusing on all the negative things your partner has said in your relationship and filtering out all the thoughtful things your partner has done. By seeing things through a negative mental filter can increase depression and anxiety. 

Disqualifying the positive

Disqualifying the positive is like mental filter as it includes a negative bias. It includes explaining away positive experiences. Viewing them as lucky or a fluke. It was just lucky I got this promotion. It was lucky I received an award for my project 

Jumping to conclusions

Jumping to conclusions is when you make a negative conclusion about something even though there is no evidence to back it up. 

  • Mind reading- is when you are assuming you know how other people are thinking or feeling, usually about you. An example of this is the thought, “they are mad at me.”
    • Fortune telling– Is when you convince yourself that things are going to turn out badly and think it is an established fact.

Magnification (catastrophizing) or Minimization

Magnification is when you are expecting the worst outcome in a situation. This can include engaging in “what if” type of thoughts. An example is when your boss schedules a meeting and you tell yourself you are going to be fired. 

Minimizing Is the opposition of magnification, when you downplay the importance of good things when they are happening, “oh that isn’t a big deal”

Emotional reasoning

Emotional reasoning is when you are relying only on your gut feelings only. It is the belief that your emotions are the truth and facts are not taking a roll in your thinking. If you are experiencing a negative emotion, then it must reflect reality. An example is the thought I feel like a bad mother; therefore, I must be bad mother. 

Should statements

It is usually not helpful to tell yourself you should be able to do something, or I should or shouldn’t have done this in the past? Statements such as “I should be _____” will lead to feelings of failure. I should be able to do this project without taking a break, but when you need a break, you feel angry with yourself and avoid going back to the project. 

Labeling and mislabeling

This is when you are assigning both yourself and others with usually negative labels. 

This can be you are lazy because you missed a deadline at work. Your coworker is stupid because they made a silly mistake at work. 


Personalization is a very common distortion. This is when you take things personally when it’s not connected or caused by you at all. This can also include when you think you are being personally excluded or targeted. 

If you find yourself engaging in these types of thought patterns consistently, and impacting your mental health, reach out today to set up a free 15 minute consultation call to see how therapy can help!

Contact me today to schedule your free 15 minute consultation if you find yourself needing help changing your unhelpful thought patters!

Blog Disclaimer – These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.