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Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are negative or irrational patterns of thinking. These negative thought patterns can play a role in diminishing your motivation, lowering your self-esteem, and contributing to problems like anxiety, depression, and substance use.

This article discusses different cognitive distortions and how they work. It also discusses hypothetical examples to show how this kind of thinking affects behavior and what you can do to help overcome these distortions.

All-or-Nothing Thinking

All-or-nothing thinking is also known as black-and-white thinking or polarized thinking. This type of thinking involves viewing things in absolute terms: Situations are always black or white, everything or nothing, good or bad, success or failure.

An example of all-or-nothing thinking is dwelling on mistakes and assuming you will never be able to do well, instead of acknowledging the error and trying to move past it.

One way to overtime this cognitive distortion is to recognize that success and progress are not all-or-nothing concepts. By addressing this type of thinking and replacing self-defeating thoughts, you can feel better about your progress and recognize your strengths.


Overgeneralization happens when you make a rule after a single event or a series of coincidences. The words "always" or "never" frequently appear in the sentence. Because you have experience with one event playing out a certain way, you assume that all future events will have the same outcome.

For example, imagine that you made a suggestion about a work project that wasn't adopted in the final work. You might overgeneralize this and assume that no one at work ever listens to you or takes you seriously.

One way to combat overgeneralization is to focus on using realistic language. Instead of saying, "I always do that!," say something such as, "That happens sometimes, but I'll try to do better next time."

Mental Filters

A mental filter is the opposite of overgeneralization, but with the same negative outcome. Instead of taking one small event and generalizing it inappropriately, the mental filter takes one small event and focuses on it exclusively, filtering out anything else.

For example, Nathan focuses on all of the negative or hurtful things that his partner has said or done in their relationship, but he filters all the kind and thoughtful things his partner does. This thinking contributes to feelings of negativity about his partner and their relationship.

Journaling is one strategy that might help overcome mental filtering. Make an effort to intentionally shift your focus from the negative and look for more neutral or positive aspects of a situation.

Jumping to Conclusions

There are two ways of jumping to conclusions:

  • Mind reading: When you think someone is going to react in a particular way, or you believe someone is thinking things that they aren't

  • Fortune telling: When you predict events will unfold in a particular way, often to avoid trying something difficult

For example, Jamie believes that he cannot stand life without heroin. Such beliefs hold him back from getting the treatment and help that he needs to successfully recover from substance use.

To overcome this cognitive distortion, take a moment to consider the facts before you make a decisions. Ask questions and challenge your initial assumptions.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is a way of judging yourself or your circumstances based on your emotions. This type of reasoning assumes that because you are experiencing a negative emotion, it must accurately reflect reality. If you feel experience feelings of guilt, for example, emotional reasoning would lead you to conclude that you are a bad person.

For instance, Jenna used emotional reasoning to conclude that she was a worthless person, which in turn led to binge eating.

While research has found that this distortion is common in people who have anxiety and depression, it is actually a very common way of thinking that many people engage in.5 Cognitive behavior therapy can help people recognize the signs of emotional reasoning and realize that feelings are not facts.


Labeling is a cognitive distortion that involves making a judgment about yourself or someone else as a person, rather than seeing the behavior as something the person did that doesn't define them as an individual.

For example, you might label yourself as a failure. You can also label other people as well. You might decide that someone is a jerk because of one interaction and continue to judge them in all future interactions through that lens with no room for redemption.

You can combat labeling by challenging the accuracy of your assumptions. Look for evidence that counters your negative thoughts. Remind yourself of the difference between opinions and facts.

Coping With Cognitive Distortions

Once you recognize that you are experiencing cognitive distortions, there are steps you can take to change these ways of thinking. Getting help is important, because these distorted thought patterns can seriously affect mental health and well-being. To change cognitive distortions:

Become More Aware of Your Thoughts

Try to notice the thoughts that contribute to feelings of anxiety, negativity, or depression. Practices such as journaling and mindfulness may help you build better awareness of your own thoughts.

Recognize the Effect of Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions can contribute to poor decisions making, but they can also play a significant role in the onset and maintenance of mental illness and other issues. Such distortions are associated with the following:

  • Addiction

  • Anxiety, fear, and panic

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

  • Depression

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Increased risk of suicidal thinking

  • Low self-esteem

  • Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)

  • Poor self-efficacy

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Challenge Your Thoughts

As you recognize that distorted thoughts cause problems, it is essential to work to change them actively. It may be uncomfortable, particularly at first, but work on challenging yourself. Is there evidence that contradicts your thoughts? Are there more helpful ways of thinking about a situation?

Talk to a Professional

If cognitive distortions are contributing to feelings of anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems, consider talking to a therapist. A therapist can utilize cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other strategies to help you change these distorted ways of thinking.

CBT is an approach that helps people recognize these cognitive distortions and replace them with more helpful, realistic thoughts. Techniques that include the integration of Hypnotherapy for anxiety works by effectively re-setting your anxiety level to ‘healthy’. It clears your subconscious of the negative and unhealthy beliefs that drive your anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems With tailored Hypnotherapy sessions, you will learn to respond to life without becoming distorted and anxious. You'll regulate your emotions more effectively so that you remain relaxed in situations that would typically trigger your anxiety attacks. Hypnotherapy helps your mind to relax and will help you regain confidence, enthusiasm, and motivation in your daily life.


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