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Cognitive Distortions (A 5point guide)

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The current blogspot will be based on the question “what are cognitive distortions?”. We will discuss the cognitive distortions, the various types of cognitive distortions, the causes of cognitive distortions, the effects of cognitive distortions. We will learn the examples of cognitive distortions in real life.The treatment options available for cognitive distortions will also be discussed. 

What are cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions are faulty or mistaken patterns of thinking. Cognitive distortions are based on distorted patterns of thinking that make an individual think negatively towards the self, the world and other people around. 

The cognitive distortions are the illogical and irrational beliefs that humans enforce upon themselves over the time and thus tend to form negative perceptions of the world and themselves in life. 

The cognitive distortions often end up being our automatic perceptions of events and are subtle responses that are not intentionally evaluated negatively rather the brain gets trained in a way that it perceives events negatively and draws negative conclusions out of events. 

Cognitive distortions are mainly false and inaccurate.they are termed as thinking errors. They are irrational beliefs and have the potential to damage our psychological well being.

What are the effects of cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions have the following effects:

  • Increased Anxiety
  • Increased Depression
  • Enhanced reactivity
  • Low socialization
  • Low confidence
  • Low self worth
  • Low self esteem
  • Emotional anxiety
  • Negative self evaluation
  • Constant state of fear
  • Persistent worry
  • Anger outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Loss of interest
  • Lack of pleasure
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

What are the types of cognitive distortions?

According to Beck there are the following types of cognitive distortions:

  • Black and white cognitive distortion
  • Labeling cognitive distortion
  • Personalization cognitive distortion
  • Blaming cognitive distortion
  • Overgeneralization cognitive distortion
  • Mental filtering cognitive distortion
  • Discounting the positive cognitive distortion
  • Magnification cognitive distortion
  • Catastrophization cognitive distortion
  • Emotional reasoning  cognitive distortion
  • Should statements cognitive distortion
  • Control Fallacies cognitive distortion
  • Fallacy of fairness cognitive distortion

Black and white cognitive distortion

Black or white thinking cognitive distortion is also known as all or nothing thinking or polarized thinking. In this cognitive distortion the individuals believe and perceive events at the two main extremes and fail to believe anything that exists between the two opposite extremes. 

For example an individual may believe that her friend loves her as she wished her birthday at 12:00 hours at midnight and might perceive the same friend to hate her and be jealous of her when she refuses to do her classwork on her behalf due to a valid reason. 

Black and white thinking is evident in personality disorders and the associated features. It often leads to distrust and  inadequate interpersonal skills among individuals.

Labeling cognitive distortion

Labeling is a cognitive distortion under which individuals believe that a single attribute can explain the whole life or whole being of an individual or their perception about an event.  Labeling Usually happens when we tend to judge ourselves or the other people negatively and associate labels. 

For example a teacher might label a student as failure when he is unable to perform well in a routine class test though he has been an achiever throughout the academic grades.


Personalization cognitive distortion happens when an individual tends to personalize the negative outcomes to one’s self and is unable to separate the negative consequences of an action or an event from one self.

The personalization of cognitive distortion often leads to blaming one’s own self and feeling guilty. Often it results in having regret related to past life events that were out of control of the individual.

For example a mother who lost her kid in a bomb blast might blame herself throughout life for sending her son to school on that particular day. 


Blaming cognitive distortion is the opposite of personalization. In blaming cognitive distortion, an individual tends to blame all the negative consequences of an event upon other people. They make the people around them responsible for all the negative consequences and negative events in their life and deny any responsibility themselves.

People with blaming cognitive distortion often have a strong belief that others have the ability to destroy or affect  their life.

For example a child may throw tantrums over his parents that he got late from school because they were driving the car slow whereas he fails to see that it was him who woke up late in morning.


The cognitive distortion of overgeneralization results when a single negative experience is generalized to the whole life without any evidence. A single negative event is seen and perceived as a never ending pattern of defeat and loss by such individuals. 

For example if an individual applies for a job and is not selected because of his dual nationality, he believes that he is an ultimate failure in life and thus decides not to ever apply again for a job because jobs are not based on merits rather favourisms.

Mental filtering

The cognitive distortion of mental filtering involves discounting the positive experiences and positive aspects of life and residing totally on the negative experiences. Mental filters involve exclusively focusing on the negative aspects of the situation and not considering the positive aspects at all.

For example, in a parent teacher meeting the child is praised for being obedient and studious and the teachers recommend reading more to improve vocabulary for the higher grades. The parents discount all the positives and start getting angry with the child for not having a good vocabulary.

Discounting the positive

Discounting the positive cognitive distortion tends to minimize the value associated with positive life events and experiences. Such individuals do not  regard positive life experiences. For them the blessings in their life and the positive aspects of life have no significance.

For example an individual with avoidant personality disorder does not regard any positive comments on his presentation and has a flat affect to all the positive comments from the office evaluation team.


Magnification refers to the cognitive distortion that leads individuals to magnify the small negative experiences and believe them to have a much greater impact on their lives. 

For example, a person sneezes due to allergy and forms a firm belief that he is covid positive and takes the sick role.


The cognitive distortion of catastrophization involves having a persistent fear that something bad might happen. It is based on mind reading and jumping to conclusions.

Mind reading involves perceiving that the individual knows what other people are thinking about them and thus they tend to perceive other people’s intention as negative without any fact or evidence.

Jumping to conclusions is based on a persistent state of worry.  Due to negative apprehensions, individuals often believe that all their efforts will go in vain and something negative will happen to destroy everything. 

For example a female fails to drive because she has a firm belief that she will hit the car and her baby will die.

Emotional reasoning 

The cognitive distortion of emotional reasoning involves rationalizing and providing justifications for your negative beliefs. For example an adolescent believes that his parents do not love him because they made him sleep separately since the birth of twin younger sisters.

Should statements

The should statements are cognitive distortions that are based around the should and musts. It is also referred to as “musterbation”. 

The cognitive distortion of should statements is based on fixed rules that a person sets for herself or himself without taking into consideration the facts and the real picture. These individuals feel irritated, annoyed and frustrated when they are unable to follow their own set of rules. 

For example, an obsessive compulsive disorder patient might believe that his hands only get clean when he washes them 20 times clockwise and anticlockwise. When stopped from doing so, the individual feels anxious and distressed.

Control Fallacies

The cognitive distortion of control fallacy is based on illusion and mistaken belief. Under this cognitive distortion an individual either believes that he is in control of everything that is happening around or believes that he has no control over the scenario. 

Under control of fallacy cognitive distortion an individual might believe others have the tendency of controlling the outcomes of their behavior or they have the tendency of controlling how others feel. 

For example an individual might feel that they were unable to make the presentation due to the noise being produced in the building being constructed in the neighbourhood of their office.

Another example could be that the individual believes that the boss is in a good mood as they went to the meeting wearing their boss’s favourite color shirt.

Fallacy of fairness

The cognitive distortion of fallacy of fairness makes a person believe that everything that happens has to be evaluated in means of fairness. They consider themselves to be the most just among all the people around them and they often have the thought that since other people do not care about being fair  and that is why they don’t agree with him.

For example a wife expects his husband to come home from work and do the dishes since she has been cooking meals throughout the evening. Otherwise the wife thinks the situation will be unjust.

What are the treatment options for cognitive distortions?

The treatment options for cognitive distortions include:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Thought challenging
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Identifying and breaking the negative schemas
  • Forming alternate positive thoughts to negative thoughts
  • Changing irrational beliefs to rational beliefs
  • Rational emotive behavior therapy
  • Identifying and breaking the vicious cycle
  • Identifying the triggering events and managing reaction
  • Diffusing the negative automatic thoughts


In the current blogspot we discussed what are cognitive distortions and learned about the various cognitive distortions with examples. We also discussed the treatment options available to deal with cognitive distortions.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Cognitive distortions

Is cognitive distortion a mental illness?

Cognitive distortion is not a mental illness in itself but it can give rise to many other mental disorders based on the negative beliefs, thought patterns and associated negative feelings. Some of the disorders that result from cognitive distortions are depression, anxiety and personality features.

What are cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions are errorful ways of thinking or distorted thinking patterns. They are based on negative patterns of thinking that develop into automatic negative thoughts and make individuals perceive things and events in a negative manner without any logical evidence.

How do you fix cognitive distortions?

Inorder to fix or treat the cognitive distortions, following strategies are of help:

Thought challenging
Thought restructuring
Identifying negative thought patterns
Forming alternate positive thoughts
Reframing your cognitive patterns


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