Cognitive Distortions


Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that can lead to distorted perceptions of reality and irrational beliefs. These distortions often occur automatically and unconsciously, influencing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It is crucial to be able to identify cognitive distortions because they can significantly impact our mental well-being and interpersonal relationships. These cognitive distortions and negative thinking patterns can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Recognizing and challenging these patterns can help promote more realistic and positive thinking. By recognizing these distortions, we gain the power to challenge and correct them, leading to more accurate thinking, improved emotional resilience, and better decision-making. Identifying cognitive distortions allows us to cultivate a more balanced and rational mindset, fostering personal growth and enhancing our overall quality of life. Some of these distortions may resonate and you may find relatable, and others might be activating. Some cognitive distortions may not align with your values, beliefs, morals, or ethics. They are meant to be for educational purposes only. I encourage you to read about at least one distortion per day. This is not an exhaustive list of all the negative thinking patterns that can occur. The list includes some of the more common patterns.

All or Nothing Thinking

“All or nothing thinking,” also known as “black and white thinking,” is a cognitive distortion that involves perceiving things in extreme and dichotomous terms. It is a thinking error commonly associated with various mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety. When you are engaging in all or nothing thinking, you may see situations in absolutes, with no room for a middle ground or shades of gray. You may view things as either perfect or completely flawed, with no in-between. This cognitive distortion often leads to rigid and inflexible thinking patterns, which can negatively impact your emotions, behaviors, relationships, occupation, and overall health and wellness. Individuals with this cognitive distortion may have a tendency to see themselves or their lives as completely worthless, failures, or hopeless. They may overlook any positive aspects and focus solely on their perceived shortcomings or failures. This kind of thinking reinforces negative self-perception and can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Similarly, in the context of anxiety, all or nothing thinking can manifest as catastrophizing, where individuals perceive situations as either completely safe or extremely dangerous. They may overestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes and underestimate their ability to cope with challenges. This cognitive distortion fuels excessive worry and anxiety, leading to increased stress and avoidance behaviors. All or nothing thinking can also contribute to a self-perpetuating cycle of negative thinking and emotional distress. When individuals continuously view situations in extreme terms, they may interpret any minor setback or imperfection as a complete failure, which reinforces negative emotions such as sadness, frustration, or anxiety. This cycle can further contribute to a sense of hopelessness and impair problem-solving skills.


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The cognitive distortion of overgeneralization is a thinking pattern in which individuals draw broad, sweeping conclusions based on limited or isolated instances. It involves making generalizations or assumptions about oneself, others, or the world based on a single event or a few examples. In essence, it involves taking one negative experience and extending it to all similar situations, leading to distorted perceptions and beliefs. Overgeneralization typically involves words like “always” or “never” and can manifest in different ways. This distortion often stems from negative emotions such as disappointment, frustration, or sadness. It can be fueled by underlying beliefs or core schemas, which are deeply ingrained cognitive frameworks that shape our perceptions of ourselves and the world. It involves making generalizations that go beyond the available information, leading to distorted thinking patterns and potentially negative emotional states. Overgeneralization is a common cognitive distortion associated with various mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

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Mental Filtering

Mental filtering is a cognitive distortion that involves selectively focusing on only certain aspects of a situation while ignoring or disregarding other relevant information. It is a type of cognitive bias that distorts our perception of reality and can lead to distorted thinking patterns and negative emotions. When a person engages in mental filtering, they tend to pay excessive attention to negative details or experiences while filtering out positive or neutral aspects. They may magnify the significance of negative events, emotions, or feedback, and discount or downplay any positive or constructive elements. It refers to the tendency to filter information in a way that reinforces pre-existing beliefs or negative thinking patterns, leading to a skewed perception of reality. People experiencing mental filtering often magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out the positive ones, which can contribute to distorted thinking and emotional distress.

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Disqualifying the Positive

“Disqualifying the positive” is a cognitive distortion commonly associated with negative thinking patterns and can be seen as a symptom of various mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety. This cognitive distortion involves dismissing, minimizing, or invalidating positive experiences, achievements, or feedback, while selectively focusing on and magnifying the negative aspects of a situation. When you engage in the cognitive distortion of disqualifying the positive, you may have a biased perception that reinforces your negative beliefs about yourself, other people, and the world around you. This thinking pattern can contribute to a downward spiral of negative emotions, self-esteem issues, and worsening mental health. Disqualifying the positive can also manifest as a tendency to anticipate negative outcomes, discounting any positive possibilities or potential solutions. This cognitive distortion can further amplify feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and pessimism, common features of depression and anxiety disorders.

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Minimizing is a cognitive distortion commonly associated with negative thinking patterns and can be observed in individuals with depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges. It involves downplaying or underestimating the significance, importance, or impact of positive events, experiences, or personal achievements, while simultaneously magnifying the negative aspects of a situation. When you are engaged in minimizing, you tend to focus on your perceived flaws, failures, or mistakes while discounting your accomplishments, strengths, or positive qualities. This distortion often stems from low self-esteem, a judgmental inner critic part, feelings of powerlessness, or a pervasive sense of negativity. It can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety by reinforcing negative self-perceptions and perpetuating a cycle of self-criticism. Individuals with depression may use minimizing to discount positive experiences or emotions, such as dismissing compliments or discounting their own achievements as insignificant. They may believe that their positive moments are mere exceptions and that their overall life is filled with negativity. This distortion contributes to a sense of hopelessness and reinforces the belief that positive change is unattainable. In the context of anxiety, minimizing can manifest as underestimating one’s ability to cope with challenging situations or downplaying the significance of progress made in overcoming fears. This distortion may lead individuals to avoid seeking help or engaging in effective coping strategies, as they underestimate their own resilience and problem-solving skills.

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“Magnifying,” also known as “catastrophizing” or “making a mountain out of a molehill,” is a cognitive distortion commonly associated with negative thinking patterns and is prevalent in various mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety. It involves blowing things out of proportion, exaggerating the importance or potential consequences of a situation, and focusing on the worst possible outcomes. Individuals who experience magnifying tend to perceive minor setbacks or negative events as overwhelming or catastrophic. They often predict disastrous outcomes and believe that the worst-case scenario is not only likely but inevitable. This distortion can occur in various areas of life, such as personal relationships, work or school performance, health issues, or social interactions. Magnifying as a negative thinking error intensifies the emotional response to a situation. For example, someone might receive a slightly critical comment and immediately interpret it as evidence that they are unlovable or worthless. This distorted thinking can lead to a cycle of negative emotions, self-doubt, and anxiety. Over time, it may contribute to the development or maintenance of mental health challenges like depression or generalized anxiety disorder.


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Emotional Reasoning

“Emotional reasoning” is another cognitive distortion that can contribute to negative thinking patterns and is often associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. It involves using one’s emotions as evidence or proof of reality, assuming that feelings accurately reflect the truth about a situation, despite the absence of supporting evidence. Individuals who engage in emotional reasoning tend to base their beliefs and decisions on how they feel rather than on objective facts or logical reasoning.


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Should Statements

“Should statements” are a cognitive distortion commonly associated with negative thinking patterns and can be indicative of various mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety. These statements reflect rigid rules and expectations we place upon ourselves and others, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy when these expectations are not met. Let’s explore this cognitive distortion further and its connection to mental health. “Should statements” involve the use of words like “should,” “must,” or “ought to,” which imply a moral or social obligation. They often involve comparing our current reality to an idealized standard or comparing ourselves to others. For example, someone might say, “I should always be productive,” or “I should be as successful as my peers.” These statements set high standards and can be unrealistic or unfair.


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Labeling or Mislabeling

Labeling is a cognitive distortion that involves assigning a fixed and often negative label to oneself or others based on a single event or characteristic. It is considered a negative thinking error and can contribute to the development or exacerbation of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. Here’s a discussion of how labeling manifests, its impact on mental health, and strategies to address this cognitive distortion. Labeling occurs when individuals use all-or-nothing language to define themselves or others. For example, someone might label themselves as a “complete failure” because they made a mistake at work, or label someone else as “stupid” for making a simple error. This distortion disregards the complexity of human experience and reduces individuals to a single, often negative, characteristic or event.

In the context of depression and anxiety, labeling intensifies negative emotions and reinforces self-defeating beliefs. When people consistently label themselves in a negative light, they create a self-perpetuating cycle of low self-esteem, self-doubt, and feelings of worthlessness. This can contribute to a downward spiral of depressive thoughts and behaviors. Labeling can also impact relationships and social interactions. When individuals label others negatively, it creates a distorted perception of their behavior, leading to miscommunication, conflict, and strained relationships. It can contribute to feelings of isolation and reinforce a pessimistic worldview. Addressing labeling requires a combination of self-awareness and cognitive restructuring techniques. Here are some strategies to challenge and overcome this cognitive distortion:

Recognize and challenge labels: Start by becoming aware of the labels you apply to yourself and others. Question their accuracy and examine the evidence supporting them. Consider alternative explanations and interpretations that are more balanced and realistic.

Practice self-compassion: Cultivate self-compassion by treating yourself with kindness and understanding. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and has flaws. Focus on your positive qualities and achievements instead of fixating on perceived shortcomings.

Develop a growth mindset: Embrace the idea that abilities, skills, and qualities can be developed and improved over time. Instead of viewing mistakes as personal failures, see them as opportunities for growth and learning.

Use affirmations: Use positive affirmations to counteract negative self-labeling. Repeat affirmations that emphasize your strengths, resilience, and worth. This can help reframe your self-perception and build self-esteem.

Seek support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals. Discussing your thoughts and feelings with others can provide a different perspective and help challenge distorted labels.

Challenge black-and-white thinking: Practice adopting a more nuanced perspective. Recognize that people and situations are complex and cannot be reduced to simplistic labels. Look for shades of gray and consider multiple factors when evaluating yourself and others.

It’s important to note that challenging cognitive distortions like labeling takes time and effort. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can provide you with additional support and guidance throughout the process.

Blaming (self-blame & blaming others)

Blaming is a cognitive distortion characterized by attributing all or most of the responsibility for negative events or outcomes to oneself or others. It is considered a negative thinking error and can be both a symptom and a contributing factor to depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. Let’s explore the causes of blaming, the underlying core beliefs and schemas, as well as the automatic negative thoughts associated with this cognitive distortion.

Possible causes of blaming:

  • Learned Behavior: Blaming can be learned through observation and internalization of blaming behaviors modeled by significant others, such as parents or authority figures.
  • Control and Attribution: Blaming often arises from a deep-seated need for control and certainty. When faced with challenging situations or negative outcomes, individuals may engage in blaming to regain a sense of control and reduce uncertainty.
  • Fear of Judgement: Blaming oneself can be a way of protecting oneself from potential judgment or criticism by preemptively assuming responsibility for negative outcomes.

Underlying Core Beliefs and Schemas:

  • Personalization: The belief that one is always responsible for events, regardless of whether it is within their control or not.
  • Perfectionism: The belief that one must be perfect and any deviation from perfection is a personal failure. This can lead to excessive self-blame for any perceived shortcomings.
  • External Locus of Control: The belief that external factors have complete control over one’s life and circumstances, leading to a tendency to blame others or circumstances for negative outcomes.

Automatic Negative Thoughts:

  • Self-Blame: “It’s all my fault,” “I always mess things up,” or “I’m a failure.”
  • Overgeneralization: “This bad thing happened because I’m inherently unlucky” or “This person is always out to get me.”
  • Discounting the Positive: Minimizing or disregarding any positive aspects or contributions in a situation and solely focusing on the negative.
  • Emotional Reasoning: Assuming that because one feels guilty or ashamed, they must be at fault or responsible for negative outcomes.
  • Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating one’s own responsibility or minimizing the influence of external factors in negative situations.

Addressing Blaming:

  • Recognize Patterns: Become aware of your tendency to blame yourself or others in different situations.
  • Challenge Automatic Thoughts: Question the validity and evidence supporting your blaming thoughts. Look for alternative explanations and consider a more balanced perspective.
  • Self-Compassion: Practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness. Understand that everyone makes mistakes, and it is natural to experience setbacks.
  • Responsibility Assessment: Distinguish between what is within your control and what is not. Focus on taking responsibility for the aspects you can change and let go of excessive self-blame for things beyond your control.
  • Cognitive Restructuring: Replace blaming thoughts with more realistic and balanced thoughts. Consider other factors, circumstances, or individuals involved in the situation.
  • Seek Support: Engage in therapy or counseling to explore underlying core beliefs and schemas and develop healthier coping strategies.

Remember that overcoming blaming as a cognitive distortion takes time and practice. Professional help can provide you with the necessary tools and guidance to challenge and reframe these negative thinking patterns.


Fallacy of Change

The cognitive distortion known as the fallacy of change is a common thinking error in which individuals believe that external circumstances or other people must change for them to find happiness or contentment. It involves the mistaken belief that one’s emotional well-being is solely dependent on factors outside of their control, rather than recognizing the role of internal thoughts, attitudes, and actions in shaping one’s own experience.

People may experience the fallacy of change in various ways. For example:

  • Relationship expectations: Some individuals may believe that their happiness in a relationship relies entirely on their partner changing certain behaviors or characteristics. They may think, “If only my partner would become more affectionate, then I could be truly happy.” This fallacy ignores the fact that personal happiness can also be cultivated through individual growth and self-acceptance.
  • External circumstances: People may fall into this cognitive distortion by assuming that they can only be content if their external circumstances change. They might think, “Once I have a better job or move to a different city, then I’ll finally be happy.” However, true happiness often comes from within and can be developed by cultivating gratitude, resilience, and positive perspectives.
  • Seeking validation: Some individuals may constantly seek external validation and approval to feel good about themselves. They may believe that their self-worth is dependent on others’ opinions or praise. This fallacy disregards the importance of self-acceptance and the ability to derive validation from within, rather than relying solely on external sources.

To identify and manage the fallacy of change, individuals can employ the following strategies:

  • Self-reflection: Take time to reflect on your own thinking patterns and beliefs. Notice if you frequently find yourself placing the responsibility for your happiness solely on external factors or other people.
  • Recognize personal agency: Understand that you have the power to make choices and take actions that can contribute to your own well-being. Focus on what you can control, such as your attitudes, perspectives, and behaviors.
  • Practice self-compassion: Cultivate self-compassion by acknowledging and accepting your own imperfections and limitations. Realize that personal growth and contentment come from within, rather than relying on external changes.
  • Set realistic expectations: Develop realistic expectations about relationships, circumstances, and other people. Understand that change takes time and effort, and that it is not solely reliant on external factors.
  • Focus on personal growth: Emphasize personal development and growth by setting goals, learning new skills, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. This shift in focus can help you recognize the importance of internal factors in shaping your well-being.
  • Seek support: If you find it challenging to identify and manage the fallacy of change on your own, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor who can help you explore and challenge your thinking patterns.

By becoming aware of the fallacy of change and implementing these strategies, individuals can develop a more balanced and realistic perspective, leading to greater personal contentment and well-being.

External Locus of Control Fallacy

The cognitive distortion known as the external locus of control fallacy refers to the belief that external factors have complete control over one’s life and outcomes, while personal actions and choices have little or no impact. It is characterized by a sense of powerlessness and the perception that circumstances, luck, or other people determine one’s success, happiness, and overall well-being.

People who experience the external locus of control fallacy often attribute their achievements or failures to external forces such as fate, luck, or the actions of others. They may feel that they have no control over their own lives and that their efforts are futile. This mindset can lead to feelings of helplessness, decreased motivation, and a passive approach to life.

To identify and manage the external locus of control fallacy, individuals can consider the following strategies:

  • Self-reflection: Take time to reflect on personal beliefs and perceptions about control and responsibility. Consider whether you tend to attribute outcomes solely to external factors or if there are instances where your actions played a significant role.
  • Awareness of language: Pay attention to the language you use when discussing events or situations. Notice if you frequently use phrases like “I can’t,” “It’s out of my hands,” or “There’s nothing I can do.” Such language may indicate an external locus of control perspective.
  • Recognize personal agency: Acknowledge that you have the ability to influence and shape your life through your choices and actions. While external factors exist, it is essential to focus on what you can control and take proactive steps toward your goals.
  • Set realistic goals: Establish achievable and measurable goals that are within your sphere of influence. Break them down into smaller steps and focus on the actions you can take to move closer to those goals.
  • Focus on strengths and skills: Recognize and build upon your personal strengths and skills. Develop a growth mindset that emphasizes learning and improvement, believing that your efforts can lead to positive outcomes.
  • Seek support: Surround yourself with supportive and positive individuals who encourage a sense of personal agency and responsibility. Engage in conversations that promote taking ownership of one’s life and actions.
  • Practice self-efficacy: Actively engage in activities that allow you to experience a sense of competence and achievement. Celebrate small successes and use them as evidence of your ability to influence outcomes.
  • Take responsibility: Accept accountability for your actions and decisions. When faced with setbacks or failures, focus on what you can learn from the experience and how you can adapt your approach in the future.

By adopting these strategies, individuals can gradually shift their mindset from an external locus of control to a more balanced perspective that recognizes both internal and external factors in shaping their lives. Developing a sense of personal agency and responsibility can empower individuals to take control of their actions and work towards creating the outcomes they desire.

Internal Locus of Control Fallacy

The term “internal locus of control fallacy” seems to be a combination of two separate concepts: “internal locus of control” and “cognitive distortion.” Let’s break down these concepts and discuss ways people may experience this cognitive distortion, as well as how they can learn to identify and manage it. The concept of internal locus of control refers to the belief that individuals have control over the events and outcomes in their lives. People with a strong internal locus of control tend to attribute their successes and failures to their own efforts, abilities, and choices rather than external factors like luck or fate. This perspective can be empowering and motivate individuals to take action and make positive changes. Cognitive distortions are irrational and biased patterns of thinking that can negatively impact one’s perception of reality and lead to inaccurate conclusions or emotional distress. These distortions can influence how we interpret events and situations, often resulting in cognitive biases. The combination of these two concepts, the “internal locus of control fallacy,” suggests a cognitive distortion in which individuals mistakenly attribute excessive control or responsibility to themselves for events or outcomes that are beyond their influence.

Ways people may experience the internal locus of control fallacy:

  • Blaming oneself excessively: When faced with negative outcomes or situations, individuals with this fallacy may automatically assume that they are solely to blame, regardless of the actual circumstances or external factors involved.
  • Overestimating personal control: They may believe that they have complete control over external events or the actions of others, leading to frustration and disappointment when things do not go as planned.
  • Ignoring external factors: This fallacy may cause individuals to downplay or dismiss the role of external factors, such as luck, timing, or other people’s actions, in shaping outcomes.

Identifying and managing the internal locus of control fallacy:

  • Cultivate self-awareness: Developing an awareness of one’s thought patterns and tendencies is crucial in recognizing cognitive distortions like the internal locus of control fallacy. Mindfulness practices, journaling, and self-reflection can aid in building this awareness.
  • Evaluate evidence and perspectives: Actively challenge and question your assumptions about control and responsibility. Consider the various factors that contribute to outcomes, including external circumstances, luck, and the actions of others. Seek alternative perspectives and consider a broader range of possibilities.
  • Seek social support: Engage in conversations with trusted friends, family, or professionals who can provide objective insights and offer alternative viewpoints. They can help you gain a more balanced understanding of situations and outcomes.
  • Practice realistic optimism: Embrace a balanced perspective by acknowledging the aspects of life that you can control and influence while recognizing that some events are beyond your control. Focus on taking proactive steps within your sphere of influence and adapting to circumstances when necessary.
  • Learn from setbacks: Instead of overly blaming yourself, view setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. Explore the lessons you can extract from the situation and use them to inform your future decisions and actions.
  • Consider professional help: If the internal locus of control fallacy significantly impacts your well-being, self-esteem, or ability to function, seeking support from a mental health professional can be beneficial. They can provide guidance and strategies tailored to your specific needs.

Remember, striking a balance between acknowledging personal agency and recognizing external influences is key to maintaining a realistic and healthy perspective on control and responsibility.

Selective Attention

Selective attention is a cognitive distortion characterized by focusing on specific aspects of a situation while ignoring or downplaying other relevant information. It involves filtering out information that contradicts preconceived notions or biases, leading to an incomplete or distorted understanding of reality. Selective attention can manifest in various ways and impact people’s perception, judgment, and decision-making processes.

There are several ways in which people may experience selective attention:

  • Confirmation bias: Individuals tend to seek out and favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or opinions, while disregarding or undervaluing contradictory evidence.
  • Tunnel vision: This occurs when individuals become overly fixated on one aspect of a situation or problem, neglecting the broader context or alternative perspectives that may be important for a comprehensive understanding.
  • Filter bubbles: With the increasing prevalence of personalized online algorithms and social media, people can unknowingly create echo chambers that reinforce their existing beliefs by selectively consuming content that aligns with their viewpoints, thereby limiting exposure to diverse perspectives.
  • Attentional biases: Individuals may have automatic and unconscious tendencies to pay more attention to certain types of information, such as negative events or threats, while minimizing positive or neutral aspects of their environment.

To identify and manage selective attention, individuals can employ the following strategies:

  • Awareness and mindfulness: Developing self-awareness is crucial to recognizing when selective attention is at play. Mindfulness practices can help individuals become more attuned to their thoughts, emotions, and biases, enabling them to catch themselves when they are engaging in selective attention.
  • Seek diverse perspectives: Actively expose yourself to a wide range of viewpoints and information sources. Engage in conversations with people who hold different opinions, read books or articles from various authors, and follow reputable news outlets with different political or ideological leanings. This broader exposure helps challenge preconceived notions and reduces the tendency for selective attention.
  • Fact-checking and critical thinking: Verify information from multiple reliable sources before forming judgments. Develop critical thinking skills to evaluate evidence, assess logical reasoning, and consider counterarguments. Fact-checking websites and independent news organizations can be valuable resources in this regard.
  • Embrace cognitive flexibility: Foster an open-minded attitude and be willing to revise your beliefs in the face of new evidence. Recognize that changing your perspective or admitting mistakes is not a sign of weakness but a strength in pursuing a more accurate understanding of the world.
  • Mindful media consumption: Be mindful of the information you consume, especially on social media platforms. Actively diversify your feed by following individuals or organizations with differing viewpoints. Question the algorithms that curate your content and consider seeking out alternative sources of information beyond your usual preferences.

By practicing these strategies, individuals can gradually become more aware of their own selective attention tendencies and develop a more nuanced and balanced perspective, leading to improved decision-making and a broader understanding of the world.

Unrealistic Expectations

The cognitive distortion of unrealistic expectations refers to a cognitive bias or thought pattern in which individuals hold excessively high or rigid expectations for themselves, others, or future outcomes. These expectations are often unrealistic, unattainable, or incompatible with reality, leading to disappointment, frustration, and a distorted perception of events and relationships. People can experience unrealistic expectations in various aspects of life, such as personal relationships, academic pursuits, career goals, and even their own self-image.

Here are a few examples:

  • Personal Relationships: A person might expect their partner to fulfill all their emotional needs, never make mistakes, or have the same interests and preferences. This can create strain in the relationship as it becomes impossible for the partner to meet such lofty expectations.
  • Career Goals: An individual may set unrealistic expectations for their career progression, expecting rapid promotions, constant success, or immediate recognition without considering the time and effort required. When these expectations are not met, they may feel demoralized and dissatisfied.
  • Self-Image: Some people develop unrealistic expectations about their own abilities or appearance, aiming for perfection in every aspect of their lives. They may set impossibly high standards for themselves, leading to self-criticism, low self-esteem, and a constant sense of failure.

To identify and manage unrealistic expectations, individuals can employ the following strategies:

  • Self-Reflection: Take time to reflect on personal expectations and assess whether they are realistic and attainable. Consider whether they are based on facts and evidence or on unrealistic fantasies and ideals.
  • Seeking Different Perspectives: Talk to trusted friends, family, or professionals to gain alternative perspectives and feedback. They can help provide a more realistic viewpoint and offer guidance on adjusting expectations.
  • Setting Realistic Goals: Break down larger goals into smaller, achievable steps. This allows for a more realistic timeline and acknowledges that progress takes time and effort. Celebrate smaller victories along the way, which can help maintain motivation.
  • Challenging Negative Thinking: Pay attention to negative self-talk and distorted thinking patterns associated with unrealistic expectations. Practice replacing negative thoughts with more balanced and realistic ones. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, such as cognitive restructuring, can be helpful in challenging and modifying unrealistic beliefs.
  • Practicing Self-Compassion: Be kind and compassionate toward oneself when expectations are not met. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and experiences setbacks. Treat oneself with the same kindness and understanding as one would offer to a close friend facing a similar situation.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: Embrace flexibility and adaptability in navigating through life’s challenges. Recognize that things may not always go as planned, and that’s okay. Cultivating resilience and a willingness to adjust expectations can contribute to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

By becoming aware of unrealistic expectations and implementing strategies to manage them, individuals can cultivate a more realistic mindset, enhance their emotional well-being, and build healthier relationships with themselves and others.


The cognitive distortion of personalization, also known as personalization bias or the “personalizing fallacy,” refers to a tendency to take things personally or assume excessive responsibility for events or situations, even when there is little or no evidence to support such a connection. It involves attributing external events to oneself without considering alternative explanations or recognizing the influence of other factors.

People can experience personalization in various ways:

  • Overgeneralization: They may interpret a single negative event or interaction as a pattern of personal failure or rejection. For example, if someone receives criticism at work, they may believe they are a complete failure in their professional life.
  • Emotional reasoning: Individuals might assume their feelings are accurate reflections of reality, leading them to personalize situations based on their emotional state. For instance, if someone is feeling insecure, they may interpret a friend’s comment as a personal attack.
  • Blaming oneself excessively: People may take the blame for things that are beyond their control, assuming that they are responsible for negative outcomes even when it’s unlikely. This can lead to feelings of guilt and self-criticism.
  • Assuming others’ actions are about oneself: Individuals may frequently assume that other people’s behaviors or moods are a direct response to them. For example, if a friend cancels plans, they may believe it is because of something they did or said.

To identify and manage personalization, individuals can consider the following strategies:

  • Recognize the cognitive distortion: Being aware of personalization as a cognitive bias is the first step. By understanding the tendency to personalize, people can start to question their assumptions and examine alternative explanations for events.
  • Challenge the evidence: When feeling personally targeted or responsible for a situation, it’s helpful to evaluate the evidence objectively. Consider whether there are other plausible reasons for what happened, and gather additional information before jumping to conclusions.
  • Seek alternative perspectives: Consulting trusted friends, family, or colleagues can provide alternative viewpoints and help individuals gain a more balanced understanding of events. Others may offer insights that challenge the personalized interpretation of a situation.
  • Practice self-compassion: Instead of blaming oneself excessively, it is essential to practice self-compassion. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and experiences setbacks. Treat oneself with kindness and understanding, just as one would treat a close friend in a similar situation.
  • Focus on what can be controlled: Shift the focus from personalization to areas within one’s control. Instead of ruminating on things that are out of their hands, individuals can channel their energy into actions that contribute to positive change or personal growth.
  • Seek professional help if necessary: If personalization tendencies significantly impact daily functioning, relationships, or well-being, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can be beneficial. They can provide guidance and support in challenging and managing cognitive distortions effectively.

By practicing these strategies, individuals can learn to identify and manage personalization, fostering healthier interpretations of events and enhancing their overall well-being.

Mind Reading

The cognitive distortion of mind reading refers to the tendency to assume that we know what others are thinking or feeling, even though there is no direct evidence to support such beliefs. It involves making assumptions about someone else’s thoughts, intentions, or motivations without sufficient evidence, often leading to misunderstandings, miscommunication, and emotional distress.

People can experience mind reading in various ways. Here are a few common examples:

  • Personal Relationships: Assuming that a friend or partner is angry at you based on their tone of voice or facial expression, without asking for clarification or considering alternative explanations.
  • Social Situations: Believing that others are judging you negatively, even though you have no concrete evidence to support this assumption. This may lead to social anxiety and self-consciousness.
  • Professional Environment: Assuming that coworkers or superiors hold negative opinions about your work or abilities, without seeking feedback or confirmation.

To identify and manage the cognitive distortion of mind reading, individuals can consider the following strategies:

  • Recognize the Assumption: Acknowledge that mind reading is a cognitive distortion and that assuming what others are thinking is not based on solid evidence. Be aware of your own tendency to jump to conclusions without sufficient information.
  • Seek Clarification: Instead of assuming, practice open and honest communication. If you’re uncertain about someone’s thoughts or feelings, ask for clarification in a respectful and non-confrontational manner. This approach can help clear up misunderstandings and foster better understanding.
  • Challenge Negative Assumptions: Question the validity of your assumptions. Consider alternative explanations for someone’s behavior or words. Recognize that people have their own experiences, emotions, and perspectives that may influence their actions.
  • Focus on Evidence: Base your judgments on actual evidence rather than assumptions. Look for concrete facts or observable behaviors that support your conclusions. If you find a lack of evidence, remind yourself that you cannot accurately read someone’s mind.
  • Practice Empathy: Instead of assuming, try to understand others by putting yourself in their shoes. Consider their background, experiences, and emotions that may contribute to their behavior. This empathetic approach can help you develop a more accurate understanding of others’ thoughts and feelings.
  • Mindfulness and Self-Reflection: Cultivate mindfulness and self-awareness to catch yourself when you engage in mind reading. Take a step back, examine your assumptions, and assess whether they are grounded in reality or merely products of your own imagination.
  • Seek Feedback: When in doubt, seek feedback from others. Ask for their honest opinions or perspectives to gain a more accurate understanding of their thoughts and feelings. Remember to approach these conversations with an open mind and a willingness to listen.

By employing these strategies, individuals can learn to identify and manage the cognitive distortion of mind reading, leading to better communication, reduced conflict, and improved relationships.

Fortune Telling

The cognitive distortion of fortune telling, also known as crystal ball thinking or predictive thinking, refers to the tendency to predict or assume negative outcomes without any substantial evidence to support such predictions. It involves making negative predictions about the future, often jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst-case scenario will occur, despite lacking factual information to support those assumptions.

People experience the cognitive distortion of fortune telling in various ways. Here are a few common examples:

  • Personal Relationships: Someone may assume that a new friendship will fail because of past experiences with failed friendships, without giving the new relationship a fair chance.
  • Work Performance: A person may predict that they will fail in a job interview or a work project, even though they have the necessary skills and qualifications. This negative thinking can undermine their confidence and performance.
  • Social Situations: Individuals may anticipate negative social outcomes, such as assuming others will not like them or that they will embarrass themselves in public, leading to avoidance or self-isolation.

To identify and manage the cognitive distortion of fortune telling, individuals can employ the following strategies:

  • Awareness: Recognize when you are engaging in fortune telling thinking. Pay attention to the negative predictions and assumptions you make about the future.
  • Evaluate Evidence: Examine the evidence supporting your predictions. Are there any actual facts or experiences that back up your negative assumptions, or are they based on mere speculation?
  • Challenge Assumptions: Question the validity of your predictions. Ask yourself if there are alternative explanations or more positive outcomes that are equally or more plausible. Consider the consequences of assuming the worst-case scenario.
  • Practice Realism: Strive for a balanced perspective by considering both positive and negative possibilities. Acknowledge that the future is uncertain, and predicting outcomes with absolute certainty is rarely accurate.
  • Focus on the Present: Shift your attention away from future predictions and focus on the present moment. Engage in mindfulness techniques or activities that ground you in the present, reducing excessive worry about what might happen.
  • Seek Support: Share your concerns and thoughts with trusted friends, family, or professionals. They can provide a different perspective and help challenge your negative assumptions.
  • Test Your Predictions: Actively test your predictions by taking small steps toward the feared outcome. This gradual exposure to the situation can help disconfirm your negative predictions and build confidence.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Consider seeking therapy from a qualified mental health professional who can help you identify and modify cognitive distortions, including fortune telling. CBT techniques can be particularly effective in challenging and changing negative thinking patterns.

By recognizing the cognitive distortion of fortune telling, individuals can develop healthier thinking habits and reduce unnecessary anxiety and pessimism about the future. Learning to identify and manage this distortion can lead to more realistic and balanced thinking patterns, ultimately improving overall well-being.

Managing Cognitive Distortions Summary

In conclusion we can define the term cognitive distortions, discuss how cognitive distortions affect our health and wellness, discuss how people experience them, and discuss ways people can learn how to manage cognitive distrotions and automatic negative thoughts. We will discuss meditation and mindfulness as the first step. We will discuss identification of automatic physical, emotional, and mental reactions as the second step. We will discuss the idea of changing long held inaccurate beliefs and illogical or irrational schemas. We will discuss thought stopping, cognitive restructuring, and working with exiled parts of the subconscious. We will review the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and internal family systems therapy. We will discuss DBT diaries, CBT thought records, and IFS journaling about experiences working with parts of the subconscious. And, we will review the positive benefits of being able to effectively manage cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortions refer to patterns of thinking that are distorted, inaccurate, or irrational. They are automatic thoughts or beliefs that individuals develop over time, often influenced by their experiences, upbringing, or cognitive biases. These distortions can significantly impact our health and wellness, as they shape our perceptions, emotions, and behaviors. When individuals consistently engage in cognitive distortions, it can contribute to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and overall decreased well-being.

Here are some ways cognitive distortions affect our health and wellness:

  • Negative thinking patterns: Cognitive distortions often involve negative thoughts and interpretations of events, leading to increased pessimism, hopelessness, and low self-esteem. This negativity can influence mood and contribute to mental health issues.
  • Emotional dysregulation: Distorted thinking can intensify and prolong negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, or anxiety. This emotional dysregulation can affect personal relationships, productivity, and overall emotional well-being.
  • Impaired decision-making: Cognitive distortions can cloud judgment and lead to poor decision-making. When individuals have distorted thoughts, they may make choices based on irrational fears, biases, or inaccurate beliefs, hindering their ability to make sound decisions that promote well-being.
  • Increased stress levels: Cognitive distortions tend to perpetuate a cycle of negative thinking and heightened stress responses. Chronic stress can have detrimental effects on physical health, including weakened immune function, cardiovascular problems, and increased susceptibility to illness.

People experience cognitive distortions in various ways, but there are common types that individuals often engage in:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things as either black or white, with no shades of gray in between. This can lead to extreme judgments and perceptions of success or failure.
  • Overgeneralization: Drawing broad conclusions based on limited experiences or a single event. For example, assuming that one mistake means you always fail at everything.
  • Catastrophizing: Exaggerating the potential negative outcomes of a situation and assuming the worst-case scenario will happen.
  • Personalization: Assuming responsibility for events or situations that are beyond personal control, often leading to unwarranted guilt or self-blame.

To manage cognitive distortions and automatic negative thoughts effectively, several strategies can be employed:

  • Meditation and mindfulness: These practices cultivate self-awareness and help individuals observe their thoughts without judgment. By being present in the moment and noticing cognitive distortions as they arise, people can begin to detach from them and reduce their influence.
  • Self-Reflection: Take time to reflect on personal experiences and assess whether your reactions to them are appropriate to the circumstances. Consider whether the reactions are based on facts and evidence or on inaccurate beliefs, illogical schemas, and negative automatic thoughts.
  • Identifying automatic reactions: Recognizing physical, emotional, and mental reactions to certain situations can help individuals pinpoint cognitive distortions. This awareness enables them to challenge and reframe these distorted thoughts more effectively.
  • Changing long-held beliefs: By examining the evidence for and against their deeply ingrained beliefs, individuals can challenge and modify inaccurate or irrational schemas. This process involves recognizing that thoughts are not necessarily facts and developing more realistic, logical, and adaptive beliefs.
  • Thought stopping: This technique involves interrupting negative thought patterns by mentally or verbally saying “stop” when a cognitive distortion arises. It helps break the cycle of negative thinking and creates space for more balanced thoughts.
  • Cognitive restructuring: This process involves actively challenging and replacing cognitive distortions with more accurate, balanced, and positive thoughts. It entails identifying evidence that supports alternative interpretations of events and practicing new ways of thinking.
  • Working with the subconscious: Approaches like Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy involve identifying and addressing “exiled parts” of the subconscious mind that contribute to cognitive distortions. By understanding and healing these parts, individuals can cultivate more integrated and balanced thinking.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used therapeutic approach that incorporates many of these strategies to address cognitive distortions and promote well-being. It focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. Internal Family Systems therapy, on the other hand, emphasizes understanding and harmonizing various parts of the self. Journaling techniques such as DBT diaries, CBT thought records, and IFS journaling can also be beneficial in working with cognitive distortions. These practices provide individuals with a structured way to reflect on their thoughts, emotions, and experiences, promoting self-awareness and facilitating cognitive restructuring.

Effectively managing cognitive distortions can lead to several positive benefits, including:

  • Improved emotional well-being: By challenging and reframing cognitive distortions, individuals can experience reduced negative emotions and increased positive emotions, leading to improved overall mood and well-being.
  • Enhanced problem-solving ability: By developing more realistic and adaptive thinking patterns, individuals become better equipped to approach challenges and solve problems effectively.
  • Strengthened relationships: Cognitive distortions often contribute to strained relationships due to negative perceptions and misinterpretations. By managing these distortions, individuals can foster healthier connections and more fulfilling interpersonal interactions.
  • Increased resilience: Managing cognitive distortions helps individuals develop a more balanced and resilient mindset, enabling them to bounce back from setbacks and cope with stress more effectively.
  • Greater self-compassion: Challenging cognitive distortions involves cultivating self-compassion and reducing self-blame. This shift in thinking promotes a kinder and more accepting relationship with oneself.

It is important to note that managing cognitive distortions can be a gradual and ongoing process. Seeking professional help from therapists trained in CBT or IFS can provide valuable guidance and support throughout this journey of self-discovery and change.