"The only real voyage of discovery....consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes'  (O'Brien,1948)

Cognitive Distortions

What are Cognitive Distortions? (See video to explain further and in more detail)

Cognitive Distortions is another way of saying ‘thinking errors’. They are ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn't really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions, telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

These are the 10 common thinking errors that I see daily in my practice, with examples to explain further.

  1. Mental Filter

Mental filtering is when we focus exclusively on the most negative and upsetting features of a situation, filtering out all of the more positive aspects.

Example: You undertake a presentation at work which is complimented and praised by ninety-five percent of the team - but you dwell and focus on the five percent of feedback that you could have done a slightly better job. This leaves you convinced you didn't do well enough and not only don't you recognise and enjoy the praise being offered but you decide not to participate in future events.

   2. Disqualifying the Positive

Disqualifying the positive is when we continually discount and dismiss the positive experiences we encounter, by deciding they are unimportant or 'don't count'.

Example: A friend compliments you on a dinner you made, but you decide that “they are just saying that to be nice” or “they are trying to get something out of me”.

   3. 'All or Nothing' Thinking

'All or nothing' thinking is when we see things purely in 'black or white'. These types of thoughts are characterised by terms such as or 'every', 'always', or ‘never’.  Everything is seen as good or bad or a success or failure. It is generally the negative perspective that is endorsed, discounting all the shades of grey that lie in between the two focussed on choices. 

Example: If you get eighty per cent on a test, you feel like a failure that you didn't get a perfect score or you think that everyone either ‘loves you’ or ‘hates you’, there is no in-between, such as they may ‘like me’.

   4. Overgeneralisation

Thinking in an over-generalising way means we will often see a single unpleasant incident or event as evidence of everything being awful and negative, and a sign that now everything will go wrong.

Example: If you fail to get a job you interview for, you decide you are never going to get a job. Or you might go on one unsuccessful date and that is it, you decide you are never going to find a partner.

   5. Jumping to Conclusions

An individual who ‘jumps to conclusions’ will often make a negative interpretation or prediction even though there is no evidence to support their conclusion. This type of thinking is often made when thinking about how others feel towards us. It can show up as either 'mind reading' (assuming the thoughts and intentions of others) or 'fortune-telling' (anticipating the worse and taking it as fact).

Example: You go out with friends and you don't like the way you look and you decide 'everyone thinks I look awful' (mind reading). Or you are going to take your driver’s test and 'know' that you are going to fail (fortune-telling).


   6. Magnifying or Minimising (also referred to as “Catastrophisation”)

Thinking in a magnifying or minimising manner is when we exaggerate the importance of negative events and minimize or downplay the importance of positive events. In depressed individuals, it is often the positive characteristics of other people that are exaggerated and the negatives that are understated (and then when thinking of oneself, this is reversed). When we think catastrophically we are unable to see any other outcome other than the worse one, however unlikely this result may turn out to be.

Example: You send out the wrong letter to a client at work, and this turns into “I will now lose my job, and then I won’t be able to pay my bills, and then I will lose my house.”

   7. Personalisation

A person engaging in personalisation will automatically assume responsibility and blame for negative events that are not under their control. This is also called 'the mother of guilt' because of the feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy it leads to.

Example: You feel it's all your fault that your dog injured his foot even though you weren't at home when it happened but were out. Your thoughts might be 'if only I didn't go out' or even 'maybe when I came home I accidentally stepped on the dog and hurt him' even though this is entirely unrealistic.

   8. Shoulds and Oughts

Individuals thinking in 'shoulds', ‘oughts; or 'musts' have an ironclad view of how they and others ‘should’ and ‘ought’ to be. These rigid views or rules can generate feels of anger, frustration, resentment, disappointment and guilt if not followed.

Example: You tell yourself you ‘should’ be a better partner or you ‘ought’ to be able to do everything, or you ‘must’ never let people down.


   9. Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is when we assume feelings reflect fact, regardless of the evidence. The idea here is “I feel it, therefore it must be true”.  Such thinking can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies whereby our thoughts can end up eliciting the very behaviour we predicted, just because we changed our behaviour in accordance with that thought.

For example, if you think “I feel ugly and stupid, so then I must actually be ugly and stupid” you might then stop buying yourself new clothes and start doing poorly at work, even though you were doing great beforehand.

   10. Labelling

Labelling is an extreme form of 'all or nothing' thinking and overgeneralisation.  Rather than describing a specific behaviour, an individual instead assigns a negative and highly emotive label to themselves or others that leaves no room for change.

Example: You make a mistake on a form you filled out and it's sent back to you in the post. So you decide “I'm such a loser” or “I'm so stupid” rather than thinking “I made a mistake as I had a busy day when I was filling this out”.

Please do watch the video to explain in more detail, as these are an important part of the journey.