What Are Cognitive Distortions?
Which came first: the chicken or the egg?
Which came first: the depression or the pessimistic thoughts? I
can't answer the first question, but the answer to the latter
may surprise you.
In many, many cases depression actually is the
result of negative thoughts. When bad things happen, we begin
chastising ourselves with such thoughts as: "I'm no good."; "I'm
a total failure."; or "Nothing ever goes my way." These thoughts
can send us spiraling right down into a deep depression. You
see, we are what we think.
This concept is the guiding principle behind
Cognitive Therapy. If we think something often enough, we begin
to believe it's true. To conquer depression, we must stop those
automatic thoughts and replace them with more positive, truthful
ones. By nipping these thoughts in the bud, we can put a halt to
depression before it even starts.
Cognitive Therapy is directed at 10 common
Cognitive Distortions, or faulty thought patterns, that send us
See if you recognize yourself in any of these.
- All-or-Nothing Thinking:
John recently applied for a promotion in his
firm. The job went to another employee with more experience.
John wanted this job very badly and now feels that he will
never be promoted. He feels that he is a total failure in
Linda is very lonely and often spends most of
her time at home. People sometime suggest that she should
get out and meet people. Linda feels that that is it useless
to try to meet people. She believes that no one really could
- Mental Filter:
Mary is having a bad day. As she drives home, a kind
gentleman waves her to go ahead of him as she merges into
traffic. Later in her trip another driver cuts her off. She
grumbles to herself that there are nothing but rude and
insensitive people in her city.
- Disqualifying the Positive:
Rhonda just had her portrait made. Her friend
tells her how beautiful she looks. Rhonda brushes aside the
compliment by saying that the photographer must have touched
up the picture. She never looks that good in real life.
- Jumping to Conclusions:
Chuck is waiting for his date at a
restaurant. She's now 20 minutes late. Chuck laments to
himself that he must have done something wrong and now she
has stood him up. Meanwhile across town, his date is stuck
- Magnification and Minimization:
Scott is playing football. He bungles a
play that he's been practicing for weeks. He later scores
the winning touchdown. His teammates compliment him. He
tells them he should have played better; the touchdown was
just dumb luck.
- Emotional Reasoning:
Laura looks around her untidy house and feels
overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. "This is hopeless",
she says to herself. "Why should I even try?"
- Should Statements:
David is sitting in his doctor's waiting
room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing
thinking, "With how much I'm paying him he should be on
time. He ought to have more consideration." He ends up
feeling bitter and resentful.
- Labeling and Mislabeling:
Donna just cheated on her diet. "What a fat
pig I am!", she thinks.
Jean's son is doing poorly in school. She
feels that she must be a bad mother. She feels that it's all
her fault that he isn't studying.
If you recognize any of these behaviors in
yourself, then you're halfway there. Here's a homework
assignment for you. Over the next couple of weeks, begin to
watch yourself closely for self-defeating ways that you respond
to situations. Practice recognizing your automatic responses.
Now, we will take each of the above Cognitive Distortions and
discuss some powerful coping strategies that will help you
dispel the blues before they even start.