12 Types of Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts that can trigger our emotions. Everyone experiences cognitive distortions, but after a certain degree of experiencing them, they can become harmful. You might have heard the phrase, “you are what you think,” or the quote by Henry Ford, “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Our thoughts are powerful and can be persuasive.

There is a chance that we may begin to believe a distorted thought that we tell ourselves. After repeating that story to ourselves multiple times, it can settle in as a belief. It can seem realistic, like a living Hell. Nothing is going right. Why do I keep failing at everything? It may be hard to escape because our brains are continually searching for proof of the thought, reinforcing the distorted, negative thought.

Your focus becomes your reality. If you focus on “nothing is going right,” then your brain is going to be constantly filled with areas where nothing is going well or where you feel are falling short. A bad day can turn into a bad year.

This can be helped by doing 3 steps

  1. Learn about cognitive distortions
  2. Identify your distorted thoughts
  3. Reframe the thoughts (Cognitive Reframing)

Cognitive distortions

Magnification and minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. You might believe your mistakes are excessively important or that your own achievements are unimportant.

“It doesn’t mean anything that I scored a 100% on that exam.”

Catastrophizing: Seeing only the worst possible outcome of a situation.

“If I don’t call this person back by the end of my work day, then I will be fired and have trouble getting a new job.”

Overgeneralization: Making broad interpretations from a single or a few events.

“I felt so awkward on that date. I’m always awkward.”

Magical thinking: The belief that acts will influence unrelated situations.

“I am a good person; bad things shouldn’t happen to me.”

Personalization: The belief that you’re responsible for events outside of your control.

“My brother is always feeling down. He would be okay if I did more to help.”

Jumping to conclusion: Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little to no evidence.

Mind reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence.

“She won’t go on a date with me, she must think I’m ugly.”

Fortune telling: The expectation that a situation will turn out badly without adequate evidence.

“I just know that I’m going to have a bad day at work.”

Emotional reasoning: The assumption that emotions reflect the way that things really are.

“I feel like a bad person, therefore, I am a bad person.”

Disqualifying the positive: Recognizing only the negative aspects of a situation, while ignoring the positive aspects.

Receiving compliments on a work performance review, but only focusing on the single point of negative feedback.

“Should” statements: The belief that things should be a certain way.

“I should always be friendly.”

All-or-nothing thinking: Thinking in absolutes, like “always,” “never,” or “every.”

Every time I try my best, it never works out.”


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