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Cognitive Distortions

Depending on the research study, an average person experiences between 6,000 and

70,000 thoughts a day, with the majority of these being negative. Frequently, these negative

thoughts can have an impact on our mood and behavior. When we evaluate our thoughts, we

may observe that a number of them fall under the category of cognitive distortions. The

American Psychological Association defines cognitive distortions as “faulty or inaccurate

thinking, perception or beliefs.” Almost everyone experiences cognitive distortions, however,

for some they may be more frequent and lead to decreased wellbeing. Once we are aware of

these distortions, we can work on challenging them. Participating in psychotherapy can also be

beneficial, as your therapist can point out when you may be experiencing these distortions and

assist you in reframing thoughts. Below are some of the most common cognitive distortions.

Catastrophic thinking: You assume the worst-case scenario will occur in every situation.


Example:

You have a slight head cold, but assume the worst and believe you may be chronically

ill

All or nothing thinking: You view the world in black and white terms, and observe things,

people or places as "all good or all bad".

Example: You are having a bad day, and have the thought: "Everything is always terrible;

nothing good ever happens.”


Mental Filtering: You filter out the positive in each situation, and focus on the negative instead.

Negative details are magnified.

Example: You are generally a good student, but receive a "C" on your last exam. You think to

yourself that you are a poor student, and disregard your past successes.


Emotional Reasoning: You do not consider objective facts, but instead, believe one's own

emotions reflect true reality;

Example: "I am feeling anxious, so I must be in danger.";

Personalization: You assume responsibility for things that are out of your control, take things

personally, or believe others are intentionally excluding or targeting you.

Example: Your friend forgets to text you to hang out; you automatically assume this is because

"you are a bad friend".


By Jade Caswell, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

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