What are Cognitive Distortions? Jacksonville, Florida CBT Specialist

February 21st, 2012

Posted by: Dr. Justin D'Arienzo, Psy.D., ABPP

What are Cognitive Distortions? Jacksonville, Florida CBT Specialist

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

Article written by Psychology Student, Stacy Massey, for Dr. D’Arienzo, Jacksonville Life Coach.

Cognitive distortions are thoughts that are inaccurate, though they may sound rational; cognitive distortions can be looked at as thinking in an extreme manner. They are the brain’s way of rationalizing false beliefs and statements, in a way to convince the individual that the thought or feeling is true, though it is not. Moreover, these distortions tend to reinforce false, negative, and sometimes harmful emotions or thoughts. Although cognitive distortions may seem daunting, they can be reversed and fixed. The best way to do so is through therapy. During therapy, the individual will learn how to change the thinking. The goal is to help the individual identify the negative thoughts and challenge it with positive thoughts. Over time, the negative thoughts will be challenged multiple times, and will become replaced with positive and rational thoughts easier and automatically. Cognitive distortions are seen in many different ways. The most common cognitive distortions are:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: this occurs when an individual sees him or her self as a complete failure if they do not achieve a task perfectly.
  • Overgeneralization: This distortion is seen when an individual sees one negative event as a constant pattern of defeat.
  • Mental Filter: This can be seen when an individual dwells on one negative detail so much that they only see the negative.
  • Disqualifying the Positive: The individual refuses to accept positive experiences, and disqualifies their importance; the experience is often met with an excuse as to why it does not count. Everyday thoughts and experiences are constantly met with negative thoughts and beliefs.
  • Jumping to Conclusions: This thinking occurs when an individual assumes a negative outcome, though there are no facts to support them.
    • Mind Reading: Mind reading is also part of jumping to conclusions. This occurs when one assumes than an individual will react badly, although the individual has no reason to truly believe this.
    • The Fortune Teller Error: Another level to jumping to conclusions. This occurs when an individual assumes things will turn out negatively, and refuses to believe otherwise. The individual feels like this belief is a fact, despite the lack of facts to support it.
    • Magnification or minimization: This thinking may also be known as the binocular trick, and occurs when an individual exaggerates the importance of an experience, or he or she shrinks an experience so much that it appears tiny.
    • Emotional Reasoning: The individual is convinced that their negative emotions reflect reality.
    • Should Statements: The individual consistently uses should and should not’s to encourage them to perform tasks, almost like being punished. These thoughts often lend way to guilt, and when directed towards other people the resulting feelings are anger, resentment, and frustration.
    • Labeling and mislabeling: These thoughts are extreme levels of overgeneralization. When an individual labels him/herself negatively, rather than describing their behavior, they are labeling. Further, when one begins to describe an event with very emotional or loaded language, they are mislabeling a situation.
    • Personalization: This cognitive distortion occurs when an individual sees themselves as the root problem of an event, although they were not responsible.Burns, D. (1989). The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow.
    • Jacksonville, Florida Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)