10 Common Cognitive Distortions

The Cognitive Behavioral Model rests on the premise that our feelings are very difficult to change without also changing our thoughts and behaviors. In fact, the way we think about ourselves and the world strongly influences the decisions we make, how we behave, and ultimately how we feel. Each of us views the world through a unique lens that can become clouded by our negative emotions and irrational thoughts.

What are Cognitive Distortions?


Cognitive distortions are the thoughts we have that aren’t entirely true. They represent the ways in which our lenses can become clouded or “distorted.” All of us know how negative thoughts can influence how we feel. We all experience cognitive distortions in our every day lives to varying degrees. Some of us experience them more than others and sometimes they can be so severe they end up hurting us emotionally. As you read through these ten cognitive distortions, circle three that you experience the most.

Below are examples of cognitive distortions and how we might correct those distortions. 



Making broad interpretations about something from a single event or occurrence. 


Example: “I didn’t perform well on my math test. I suck at math.”

Cognitive Correction: “I didn’t perform well on my math test. I am upset with my performance on this test, but I can learn from my mistakes and improve my math skills for the next test.”

Magical Thinking


Believing that doing something or thinking something will influence unrelated situations. (Commonly seen in those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) 


Example: “If I don’t say this word four times then my family might be harmed.”

Cognitive Correction: “I feel worried about harming my family, but is there any factual evidence that my family would be harmed if I don’t say the word four times?”

Emotional Reasoning


Assuming that emotions reflect the way things actually are.  


Example: “I feel like a bad husband, therefore I must be a bad husband.”

Cognitive Correction: “Even though I feel like a bad husband because I forgot to pick up milk from the store, that does not mean I am a bad husband. Here are some reasons why I am not a bad husband…”

All or Nothing Thinking


Thinking in absolutes such as “always”, “never”, or “every”.


Example: “I will never be good at basketball.”

Cognitive Correction: “Although I am not satisfied with how I played today, I can learn from my mistakes and improve in the future.”



Believing you are responsible for things that are outside of your control.


Example: “My wife is always upset. She would be fine if I did more to help her.”

Cognitive Correction: “My wife seems upset. I don’t want to see her upset, but I can’t control how she feels. The best I can do is support her in the ways I know how.”

The “Shoulds”


The belief that things should be a certain way.


Example: “I should go to the gym today.”

Cognitive Correction: “I don’t really want to go to the gym today, but I know I will feel better if I do.”

Minimizing Positivity


When you recognize only the negative aspects of a situation and ignore or minimize the positives.


Example: When you give a presentation and people compliment you and you immediately reply with “yea, but I think it went on too long and wasn’t interesting.”

Cognitive Correction: Give yourself permission to feel positive emotions. 



Immediately assuming the worst case scenario in any situation.


Example: “My boyfriend didn’t call me last night. He is cheating on me.”

Cognitive Correction: “My boyfriend didn’t call me last night and I am worried. Even though I am worried he might be cheating on me, I know there are many other potential explanations.”

Entitlement Beliefs


Believing the rules for others shouldn’t apply to you.


Example: “I don’t have to go to school and receive a degree in that because I already know the information.”

Cognitive Correction: “If I want to work in this industry, a degree is required. Therefore, I will have to go to school even though I know a lot about this topic.”



Assuming you know what others are thinking or feeling.


Example: “He thinks I am stupid and worthless. I just know it.”

Cognitive Correction: Ask yourself, “What factual evidence do I have to support this?”


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