Cognitive Distortions: Getting Personal

Cognitive distortions in CBT, e.g. all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing

In yesterday’s post, I outlined some of the common types of cognitive distortions. It’s one thing to know about them, but actually recognizing them in ourselves can be a lot harder to do. And sure, it’s all well and good to try to look for evidence against a possibly distorted thought, but what if there is a preponderance of evidence that actually supports the negative thoughts?  

I’ve needed quite a bit of time and reflection to see many of my own cognitive distortions for what they are, and understand that even though there may have been some truth underlying some of these thoughts, my mind then grabbed hold and ran off in a distorted direction. Warning: I don’t have a good synonym for the word shit, so that word is used very liberally.

Always being right

For the most part, I don’t do this when I’m depressed. However, when it comes to my treatment, I get very rigidly convinced that what I think is right. During one hospitalization I was adamant that I was not going to have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It was stupid, because ECT is helpful for me, but I wasn’t budging; I was always right about what treatment I should have, and the doctor was just plain wrong.

Black and white thinking

I do this the most in evaluating whether people are safe or unsafe, trustworthy or untrustworthy. Most people get quickly shuffled into the unsafe/untrustworthy category.


I expect that small shit is going to turn into big shit. Not an if but a when. A big factor in this is that there have been multiple occasions in the relatively recent past when what should have been small shit did in fact turn into big shit, so it’s easy to tell myself that no, this isn’t distorted thinking, it’s being realistic. I’ve done a lot of drowning in shitstorms in the last while, so why shouldn’t I expect it? Throw me a life raft already! The reality, though, is that probably most small shit will stay small most of the time.

Disqualifying the positive

When I’m unwell, the thinking might go: “So I had a decent minute/hour/day… what difference does it make, everything is still just as shitty overall.” As I start to get a little better, the thinking takes a bit of a turn and it’s more having a hard time trusting that the positive truly is positive rather than just shit in disguise.


I’ll focus on the downpour of negativity, and think that I must have been walking around in a bubble in the past that made me oblivious to the permanent negative downpour. When in reality it’s probably more like a cartoon character walking around with a little raincloud temporarily following along above his head, and all the while the sun is shining everywhere else.

Emotional reasoning

The biggest one for me right now is that I feel unloved by my parents, therefore they must not love me. I know intellectually that this isn’t true, but I still really struggle with it.

Fallacy of fairness

I have a pretty strong sense of ethics and justice and all that crap, and I tend to assume that everyone else should have the same. Where I seem to get most caught up in the fallacy of fairness is expecting fairness from people who I don’t have a close personal relationship with. I guess somehow I expect that distance=objectivity=fairness. Except the world doesn’t work that way.

Fallacy of control

When I’m depressed, I often feel like I have no control over what’s happening to me. It can be hard to tease apart that a) maybe I do have limited control over what happens around me, and b) maybe I do have limited control over my illness given that it’s not always that responsive to treatment, but c) somewhere in all of that there are still elements of my reactions and choices that I do have control over.

Fortune telling

So much shit has happened before, my automatic expectation is that the future will follow along in the same direction as the past. I even run over mock conversations on replay in my mind of some shitty event that I’m imagining will happen.

Mind reading

I must admit, I tend to do this at the best of times, but more so when I’m feeling vulnerable. A recent recurring mind-reading theme: “I haven’t heard from X today. It must be because X is sick of talking to me and doesn’t want to deal with me anymore.”


“I hate people” is something I say probably more often than I should. I’ve encountered a plethora of stupid and shitty people in my real life, and I’ve expanded that outwards to include pretty much everyone in a 50km radius. Ok, so maybe I need to admit it’s an overgeneralization to say I hate all people; perhaps if I tone it down to “I hate most people,” then I’m no longer overgeneralizing…


I think I do this more at work, and it tends to go hand in hand with catastrophizing. I’ll read a team email and be convinced that the message is actually directed at me, and then all of a sudden I’m thinking damn, they’re going to fire me, or do this or that to me… There have been work situations before when things were not-so-subtly directed at me, so it can be hard to convince myself that it’s not reasonable to expect that to keep happening all the time.

The last time I tried seeing a therapist, she wanted to do CBT with me. I remember very clearly thinking that I didn’t have cognitive distortions; my negative cognitions were based in reality. I think that for me, personally, I’m just not receptive to CBT when I’m at my lowest with my depression. It’s really just in the last couple of months that I’ve been gradually feeling somewhat better and mentally flexible enough to be able to work on gaining insight into these thought patterns. It’s an ongoing project that involves finding a balance between challenging the distorted thinking and validating the thoughts, emotions, and experiences that gave rise to those distortions. Blogging and journalling have been an important part of that.

What are some of the cognitive distortions that are major stumbling blocks for you?

29 thoughts on “Cognitive Distortions: Getting Personal”

  1. I relate so much to 95% of these…I don’t know if this is just how most people operate, but I do remember a time when I was not like this. It isn’t much fun. I’ve figured out that the less people I have in my life, the lower the potential for initiating so many of these things-for me there is a definite correlation. Which sucks, cause then I’m a little lonely. I hope eventually my self esteem will right itself and it will get easier. I really feel like that’s the key for me.

  2. I also have a lot of these. I’ve done CBT, but it has never really helped for depression (although it helped for my OCD), because the evidence in favour of my cognitive distortions always seems too overwhelming. I might be more receptive to CBT now than I was in the past because it’s harder to deny that a few things have gone better (if not necessarily well) lately. I’m trying to use CBT from a self-help book for my social anxiety, but it’s still hard.

  3. I’m gonna have to do this exercise, I believe it is crucial if we want to better ourselves as humans and help us with our illness.
    Can’t do it right now, there is to much shit in my head!

  4. My former CBT therapist always referred to these things as dysfunctional thinking. I like your term a little better, but I’ll admit that some tools she gave me really did help a bit.

    Though this has not always been an issue for me, in recent years catastrophizing has held me back from things. I also often feel that things will be much harder than they really are.

  5. Wow, after reading this, I feel like I meet 75-80% of all the categories. I actually thought I was the only one that would scream out loud, “I hate people”, then apologize to God for saying it out loud. I try to see the gray between the black and white and have done a lot of self-talking to get me through those moments. I know I’m always hard on myself and am a perfectionist, but I think that stems from me being OCD. Wow, is all I can say. I’m up there on the scale of everything you wrote about.

    1. I first started getting training in CBT years ago, so I’ve known about these for a long time, but then to read over them and realize hey, I’m doing most of those… it’s definitely an oh wow moment.

  6. I can relate to so many of these. I catastrophize, filter, mind-read (it’s hard not to see the actions of another without filtering through what my intentions, feelings, or meaning would be given the same behavior), personalize, and fortune tell most. I’ve done CBT and have really only had one therapist who was more effective than talking to a friend, reading about a problem, or getting some exercise.

    I might be resistant to it when I need it most too.

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