Cognitive Distortions


These are thoughts that are not quite accurate, but we have a tendency to think them anyway (without even realizing it!).  Although some automatic thoughts are true, many are either untrue or have just a grain of truth.  Common mistakes in thinking include:


  1. All-or-nothing Thinking (also called black and white, polarized or dichotomous thinking) – you view a situation in only two categories instead of on a continuum.  Example:  “If I’m not a total success, I’m a failure.”
  2. Catastrophizing (also called fortune telling) – you predict the future negatively without considering other, more likely outcomes.  Example:  “I’ll be so upset, I won’t be able to function at all.”
  3. Disqualifying or discounting the positive – you unreasonably tell yourself that positive experiences, deeds, or qualities do not count.  Example:  “I did that project well, but that doesn’t mean I’m competent; I just got lucky.”
  4. Emotional Reasoning – you think something must be true because you “feel” (actually believe) it so strongly, ignoring or discounting evidence to the contrary.  Example: “I know I do a lot of things okay at work, but I still feel like I’m a failure.”
  5. Labeling – you put a fixed, global label on yourself or others without considering that the evidence might more reasonably lead to a less disastrous conclusion.  Example: “I’m a loser.  He’s no good.”
  6. Magnification/minimization – when you evaluate yourself, another person, or a situation, you unreasonably magnify the negative and/or minimize the positive.  Example:  “Getting a mediocre evaluation proves how inadequate I am.  Getting high marks doesn’t mean I’m smart.”
  7. Mental Filter (also called selective abstraction) – you pay undue attention to one negative detail instead of seeing the whole picture.  Example:  “Because I got one low rating on my evaluation (which also contained several high ratings), it means I’m doing a lousy job.”
  8. Mind reading – you believe you know what others are thinking, falling to consider other, more likely possibilities.  Example:  “He’s thinking that I don’t know the first thing about this project.”
  9. Overgeneralization – you make a sweeping negative conclusion that goes far beyond the current situation.  Example:  “Because I felt uncomfortable at the meeting, I don’t have what it takes to make friends.”
  10. Personalization – you believe others are behaving negatively because of you, without considering more plausible explanations for their behavior.  Example:  “The repairman was curt to me because I did something wrong.”
  11. “Should” and “must” statements (also called imperatives) – you have a precise, fixed idea of how you or others should behave and you overestimate how bad it is that these expectations are not met.  Example: “It’s terrible that I made a mistake.  I should always do my best.”
  12. Tunnel Vision – you only see the negative aspects of a situation.  Example:  “My son’s teacher can’t do anything right.  He’s critical and insensitive and lousy at teaching.”

Adopted by Beck (1997)