Most common cognitive distortions

Cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts or ideas that maintain negative thinking and help to maintain negative emotions, keeping you stuck in your emotions, and reinforcing your dysfunctional beliefs (schema).

Everyone has cognitive distortions. When you look at the list below, do not be concerned with how “many” distortions you use, recognize that we all use these at one time or another. Simply look for the ones that you use often and focus your attention on correcting those.

Confirmation Bias as a Cognitive Distortion:

This is the most important of the cognitive distortions because it keeps you from changing and does not allow you to challenge.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor information that fits and confirms preconceived biases and beliefs, regardless of whether the information is true. This affects the way you interpret and remember, especially in emotional situations.

Confirmation bias affects the ability to incorporate new or alternative information. The information will be dismissed because it does not fit with the belief.

There are examples of this all around you, from the type of phone you carry, your political party preference, religious beliefs, and so on.

Information that confirms your beliefs – you pay attention to. Information that goes against your beliefs – you dismiss.

This can be especially dangerous in your relationships. What you believe about your partner you will look to prove true – even if that belief is very dysfunctional and you will not attend to information that proves otherwise.

Catastrophizing / Magnification:

We expect disaster to strike, no matter what. We listen to a client’s issues and use various questions like “what if” questions (e.g., “What if disaster strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”). What if questions create uncertainty, which generates anxiety and panic?

Catastrophizing thoughts become worse and worse to the point that you assume the very worst and imply or assume that it is an awful cognitive distortion, or would be awful if this happened.

Hint: Making Mountains out of molehills.

Filtering as a Cognitive Distortion:

We focus on the negative details of our interpretations and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.

For example, an individual may choose a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it completely so that their idea of realism becomes dark or fuzzy.

Example: I want to connect with my husband and talk. He seemed very busy and told me that now is not a good time, but we can talk later. My husband doesn’t love me, he has a relationship with another girl (Filtering).

Polarized Thinking is a Cognitive Distortion:

Things are either “black-or-white.” We have to be perfect or we’re a failure–there is no middle ground. If your presentation is not according to you, you might think of a total failure.

Hint: Polarized thinking reveals itself in your language with absolute statements. “Always, never, nothing, anything.” Either/Or hint is doing a lot of comparisons. “She’s perfect, I’m such a loser.” “He never does anything wrong. I’m always screwing up.”


We come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence that is an overgeneralization. It is a part of cognitive distortion.

If something awful occurs once, we imagine it to be happening all-time in the future.

Hint: This leads people to feel hopeless and powerless because they have made up their mind that there is nothing they can do to improve their situation. Overgeneralization is also another word for prejudice. We come to a conclusion about a group of people, or an institution, an organization based on a single incident.

Jumping to Conclusions:

Without measuring appropriate cause and situation individuals go into a conclusion saying so, we know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do.

Hint: This has tones of mind-reading in it. We know what people are thinking and react to our own thoughts as if they are the thoughts of the other person. Another Jumping to Conclusions hint is that your conclusions are more than likely negative, which causes you to think others think negatively about you.


Thinking that what people do or say is some kind of reaction to us.

A person sees themselves as the cause of something that may not have anything to do with them. They try to differentiate themselves from others trying to conclude who has smarter, superior looking, etc are cognitive distortions.

Example: The brusque tone of his voice caused her to think that she did something to upset him.

Control Fallacies:

If we feel externally controlled, we see ourselves as helpless a victim of a fate that makes cognitive distortion. For instance, the fallacy of internal control has us assuming liability for the hurt and pleasure of everybody about us.

For example, “Why aren’t you happy? Is it because of something I did?”

Hint: External control makes you appear to be the victim. Internal control makes you appear to be a people pleaser.

The Fallacy of Fairness:

We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us.

For example, this is a very bad habit for relationships in which you use these cognitive distortions to “keep score.” “I did the dishes and laundry. What have you done around here?”


We make cognitive distortions by holding other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. We should remain in mind that others have no chance to “make” us feel any particular way — only we have power over our own emotions and emotional reactions.

Hint: When you externally blame you make yourself a victim in life and this causes you to look like someone who takes no responsibility for his short-comings.


We have a list of rules about how others should behave. People who break the rules make us angry.

When an individual use should statement in their daily activities, they often feel sad, stress, anger, anxiety, panic, frustration and hatred.

We also have a list of rules for ourselves, and we feel guilty when we violate our own rules. Musts and oughts are also offenders and cognitive distortions. The emotional consequence is guilt.

Hint: When you have an abundance of should thinking you typically feel very guilty because you have a “critical parent” in your head constantly reminding you of how you messed up. Or, you are the “critical parent” of others continually judging and finding fault.

Emotional Reasoning Makes Cognitive Distortion:

We believe that what we feel must be true automatically. If we are mistrustful, then we believe we should not trust that person. You assume that your unpleasant emotions reflect the way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”

Hint: Emotions are not good judges of evidence. Look for evidence to support or deny your emotions.

The fallacy of Change:

We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We think our hopes for happiness seem to depend completely on them that make cognitive distortions.

Hint: This can also lead to forms of abuse in order to wear down your partner so that he or she will never leave.


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