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Cognitive Distortions in CBT

cognitive distortions in CBT

I’m sure many of you are already familiar with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but I thought it was still worth taking a look at cognitive distortions, a key ingredient in the CBT soup.  When we’re not well (and even when we are well) we tend to fall into certain common thinking traps.  Recognizing that we’re falling into these traps can allow us to start to challenge the thoughts that lead us in that direction.  There is some variability in specific terms used depending on the source; for this post, I’ve used Wikipedia and Psych Central.

  • All-or-nothing (also known as black & white or polarized thinking, or splitting): something is one way (e.g. good) or the opposite way (e.g. bad), with no shades of grey in between
  • Always being right: being convinced that one’s thoughts/actions are correct
  • Blaming: blaming another person for causing one’s own emotions or experiences
  • Catastrophizing: expecting that the worst will happen – think Chicken Little and the sky is falling!
  • Disqualifying the positive: dismissing anything positive as unimportant or meaningless
  • Emotional reasoning: I feel it, therefore it is so (kind of a distorted twist on “I think, therefore I am”)
  • Fallacy of change: expecting that others will change to suit our needs if we just push them hard enough
  • Fallacy of control: the locus of control may be seen as fully external (i.e. I don’t have control over what happens to me) or fully internal (i.e. I am responsible for what’s happening to others around me)
  • Fallacy of fairness: believing that the world is a just place; also known as the just world fallacy
  • Filtering: most often this occurs as filtering out the positive and only seeing the negative
  • Heaven’s reward fallacy: we have sacrificed/suffered so something good/rewarding must come of it eventually
  • Jumping to conclusions: this is what it sounds like, and there are 2 common forms
    • Fortune-telling: predicting how something will turn out
    • Mind-reading: belief that one can know another person’s thoughts based on their behaviour
  • Labelling: labelling a person as a whole based on a behaviour
  • Overgeneralization: this is exactly what it sounds like; for example, one person treated me badly so that means all people will treat me badly
  • Personalization: blaming oneself for external events
  • Shoulds: some shoulds are reasonable, like we all “should” follow the law, but others are not (e.g. I “should” wash my hands 50 times after touching a door handle)

So that’s a quick run-down on cognitive distortions.  Tomorrow, I’ll get personal and poke at some of the cognitive distortions I’ve identified in my own thinking.

CBT Fundamentals mini-ebook from Mental Health @ Home

The CBT Fundamentals mini-ebook, available from the MH@H Download Centre, provides an introduction to cognitive behavioural therapy concepts along with workbook-style exercises. 

17 thoughts on “Cognitive Distortions in CBT”

  1. I’m really glad you put the list here, it is useful for people to have easy access to. I have my list on my fridge. Haha not that there is anything in the fridge, so no reason for me to go to it except in the morning for the soy milk. But, still, once is enough.

      1. My new therapist suggested I start journaling again… I think you posted a great blog on that recently that I want to use to inspire my own blogging. Your blogs are so valuable.

  2. Thank you for your post, I just recently started blogging because I have BPD. This is one of the ways they have for BPD they also have DBT which I will be making a post about soon. Thank you for all the information it really helped.

  3. I’m guilty of “blaming.” If someone treats me wrong, I tend to blame them for the problems it causes me. Is that an incorrect thought pattern? Not sure.

    My favorite way to counter a negative cognitive schema (involving low self-image) is to look at myself in the mirror and think, “Oh my, you are the sexiest woman alive.” It usually makes me laugh.

    I definitely suffer from the Heaven’s reward fallacy as well. It was indoctrinated into me that God rewards good motives, and I doubt there’s a way I can break that thought pattern now!! 😀 I feel bad when I do the wrong thing, so I guess virtue is its own reward, or something like that!

    Great post!! I love all things psychological.

  4. This is really useful to have written down – the sort of thing I’ve been told about many times but always find a way to ignore. The best response I’ve heard for emotional reasoning is ‘Feelings are real, but not reality’. Quite useful to acknowledge your truth without going down the rabbit hole of assuming your feelings are set in stone.

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