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Cognitive Distortions

Many of us are unaware of the thoughts that we have and how they are affecting us. The habitual thoughts we have create patterns of behaviour that relate to them.

It is not uncommon to think in terms of ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘should’. However, these thoughts can create barriers within us that prevent us from moving forward or even trying new things.

Here I have put together some of the most common cognitive distortions we tend to use. Can you see yourself in any of them?

All or nothing thinking

This is when we see things as either black or white; in absolutes. So if something does not live up to expectations it is viewed as a complete failure, and no allowance is made for potential changes. Can you think of a time when you have thought in this way?

Over generalisation

This is when you perceive one negative event as a never ending pattern. This ‘always’ happens, or things ‘never’ work out. Do you find yourself saying things like I’ll never get that done, or bad things always happen to me?

Mental filter

This is when you pick out a negative thought or detail and dwell on it. This is a common distortion. I imagine you can remember a time being told 4 or 5 good things and 1 thing that could be improved, and all you can remember is the ‘negative’ feedback. Also, when positive comments are received from your friends or peers, and one person does not concur, you dwell on what the one person said. Can you relate to this?

Discounting the positive

This is when you discount your positive achievements as ‘not counting’. Instead you retort ‘anyone could have done it as well as I did, it was nothing’ . Is it seen as false modesty or pride to accept praise for work well done? What is wrong with accepting positive feedback for your work etc?

Fortune Telling/Mind Reading

Fortune telling is when you project that a future event will turn out badly. Imagining the worst case scenario, and the ‘if I do that then this will happen’ type of thinking. The fear of failing or losing can stop you from even trying something. It is closely related to mind reading. You think that we know what others thinking or will think about you or second guessing what someones behaviour towards you means. Usually the thought is detrimental to you. Does this sound familiar?


This is when you over exaggerate the importance of problems, and shortcomings; or you minimise your own abilities. You make everything seem worse than it is. There’s too much to do, or this is awful,or what if I fall apart. It is when you see the worst of any situation instead of the reality. Worried about what if instead of what is. Have you experienced this kind of thinking?

Should statements

This is when you constantly feel like you should have done something other than what you did do, or you shouldn’t have done that… Worrying over conversations you had and thinking I should have said this or not said that. Should not and should statements are likely to bring about guilt and frustration, and a lack of good feelings towards yourself. They often lead to anger, judgment, frustration, low self esteem and self hatred. Can you relate to this?

These are just a few of the common cognitive distortions we use unconsciously. When you read then, can you relate to any of them? How do they make you feel when you acknowledge yourself in them? Do you feel empowered by them or disempowered? Can you think of more productive and functional ways to think instead?

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