A cognitive distortion is an exaggerated pattern of thought that’s not based on facts. It consequently leads you to view things more negatively than they really are. Here are the most common cognitive distortions below.

  • Filtering: a term used to describe one type of cognitive distortion, or faulty thought pattern, that can often lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression. When thinking through a mental filter, a person is focusing only on the negative aspects of a situation and filtering out all of the positive ones.
  • Polarization: is thinking about yourself and the world in an “all-or-nothing” way. When you engage in thoughts of black or white, with no shades of gray, this type of cognitive distortion is leading you. For example, your coworker was a saint until she ate your sandwich.
  • Overgeneralization: is a type of cognitive distortion where a person applies something from one event to all other events. This happens regardless of whether those events are circumstances are comparable.
  • Discounting the positive: you reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count.” If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.
  • Jumping to conclusions: is a form of cognitive distortion. Often, a person will make a negative assumption when it is not fully supported by the facts.
  • Catastrophizing: is related to jumping to conclusions. In this case, you jump to the worst possible conclusion in every scenario, no matter how improbable it is.This cognitive distortion often comes with “what if” questions. What if he didn’t call because he got into an accident? What if she hasn’t arrived because she really didn’t want to spend time with me? What if I help this person and they end up betraying or abandoning me?
  • Personalization: is the belief that you are entirely to blame for something even though you had little or nothing to do with the outcome. In fact, the situation may not be connected to you in any way at all. It can also involve blaming someone else for something for which they have no responsibility.
  • Control Fallacies: when we think that everything in our life is due to factors inside or outside of our control, we experience a lot of negative emotions. When we believe that something or someone has power over us and our lives, or we believe we hold that type of power over others, it’s called a Control Fallacy.
  • Fallacy of Fairness: arises when an individual attempts to apply similar rules to interactions with people in their personal life. The single most challenging aspect to this is that two people will rarely agree on what “fair” means in personal interactions.
  • Blaming: 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, James blamed himself for her daughter’s bad grade in school.
  • Shoulds/Musts: should/must statements are a common negative thinking pattern, or cognitive distortion, that can contribute to feelings of fear and worry. They also put unreasonable demands and pressure on ourselves, which can make us feel guilty or like we’ve failed.
  • Emotional Reasoning: In a nutshell, it is “I feel therefore it must be true.”  Whenever someone concludes that how they feel about something must be the reality of the situation, any evidence that contradicts how they are feeling is dismissed in favor of the assumed “truth” of their feelings.
  • Fallacy of Change: this thought distortion assumes that others should change to suit their own interests. The person will pressure others to change because they feel the change will bring them happiness. They are convinced the happiness is dependent on the person changing.
  • Global Labeling: global labeling, also termed as mislabeling, is an irrational way of thinking characterized by merely using one or two encounters as a general assumption of someone’s personality or behavior. People with this unhealthy cognition do not try to understand the context of an action. For example, during the first day of classes, a teacher was a bit late and one of the students already branded him as a “sloppy teacher”. Global labeling is one of the most common types of cognitive distortions.
  • 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.




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