10 Cognitive Distortions Identified in CBT

September 11, 2021

10 Cognitive Distortions Identified in CBT

Previously, we have shared what is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and today, we will be sharing the basis of CBT, which is identifying cognitive distortions, or faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking, and is effective in treating a number of issues, ranging from depression and anxiety to addiction and eating disorders. These distorted thinking patterns cause negative feelings, which in turn can worsen an addiction.

Cognitive distortions are ways that our thoughts can become biased. As conscious beings, we are always interpreting the world around us, trying to make sense of what is happening. Sometimes our brains take’shortcuts’ and generate results that are not completely accurate. Different cognitive shortcuts result in different kinds of biases or distortions in our thinking. Sometimes we might jump to the worst possible conclusion, and at other times we might blame ourselves for things that are not our fault. Cognitive distortions happen automatically – we don’t mean to think incorrectly – but unless we learn to notice them, they can have powerful yet invisible effects on our moods and our lives. Cognitive distortions were first noted by Aaron Beck, an American psychiatrist, in his research with depressed patients in the 1960s. They formed a central part of his cognitive theory of depression and, later, CBT.

All-or-Nothing Thinking

All-or-nothing thinking can easily lead to relapse. This type of thinking involves viewing things in absolute terms. Everything is black or white, everything or nothing.

For example, Joan feels like a failure at getting sober. Every time she has a slip-up, instead of acknowledging that she made a mistake and trying to move past it, she drinks to intoxication the same night, figuring she has already blown it.


Overgeneralization happens when you make a rule after a single event or a series of coincidences. The words “always” or “never” frequently appear in the sentences.

Here’s an example: Ben has inferred from a series of coincidences that seven is his lucky number and has overgeneralized this to gambling situations involving the number seven, no matter how many times he loses.

Mental Filters

A mental filter is an opposite overgeneralization, but with the same negative outcome.

An example of how mental filters can lead to addiction or relapse: Nathan feels like he needs to use cocaine in social situations because he filters out all the good social experiences he has had without cocaine and instead fixates on the times he has not been on cocaine and others have seemed bored with his company.

Discounting the Positive

Discounting the positive is a cognitive distortion that involves ignoring or invalidating good things that have happened to you.

For example, Joel compulsively seduces then rejects strangers because he discounts all of the positive non-sexual human interactions he has each day since they aren’t as intense or pleasurable as having sex with a stranger.

Jumping to Conclusions

There are two ways of jumping to conclusions:

Mind reading: When you think someone is going to react in a particular way, or you believe someone is thinking things that they aren’t.

Fortune telling: When you predict events will unfold in a particular way, often to avoid trying something difficult.

Here’s an example: Jamie engaged in fortune-telling when he believed that he wouldn’t be able to stand life without heroin. In reality, he could, and he did.


Magnification exaggerates the importance of shortcomings and problems while minimizing the importance of desirable qualities.

An example of how magnification can lead to addiction or relapse: Ken spends his life savings looking for a pill to take away his pain and depression.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is a way of judging yourself or your circumstances based on your emotions.

For instance, Jenna used emotional reasoning to conclude that she was a worthless person, which in turn led to binge eating.

“Should” Statements

These statements are self-defeating ways we talk to ourselves that emphasize unattainable standards. Then, when we fall short of our own ideas, we fail in our own eyes, which can create panic and anxiety.

An example: Cheryl became addicted to overspending on shoes because she couldn’t live up to her own high standards.


Labelling is a cognitive distortion that involves making a judgment about yourself or someone else as a person, rather than seeing the behaviour as something the person did that does not define them as an individual.

Here’s an example of how labelling can lead to addiction or relapse: Shannon labelled herself a bad person, unable to fit into mainstream society.

Personalization and Blame

Personalization and blame is a cognitive distortion whereby you entirely blame yourself, or someone else, for a situation that, in reality, involved many factors and was out of your control.

For example, Anna blamed herself for childhood abuse by her father, reasoning that if she hadn’t led him on, it never would have happened (this is actually what her father had told her at the time). Because she personalized the abuse, she grew up with a compulsive avoidance of sex, known as sexual anorexia.

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Interested to learn in-depth about Cognitive distortions? Aventis School of Management offers the specialised Master of Arts in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy for those working towards being a professional counsellor/psychotherapist.

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