Well Being

Five Cognitive Distortions That Lead to Negative Thoughts


Cognitive distortions are universal and everyday experiences. They form a part of all of our lives. That said, some of us are more skilled than others when it comes to limiting their influence on us. Cognitive distortions are exaggerated thought patterns. They’re not based on objective perceptions but on biased interpretations of reality. As a rule, they promote negative thinking.

Cognitive distortions feed ideas about yourself and the world that are either extremely inaccurate or outright false. As a rule, they make you look at the world in a pessimistic way. Moreover, since your thinking has a great influence on your behavior, these distortions may well lead you to act in a wrong or erratic manner.

The real problem is that cognitive distortions (and their derived ideas) support your decisions. Similarly, they have a significant impact on your emotions and state of mind. In this article, we’re going to explore the kinds that produce and perpetuate negative thinking.

“The mind is everything.What you think you become”.


1. Polarization

Polarization or polarized thinking is a frequent cognitive distortion. It’s also one of the most damaging. It’s a way of approaching reality taking into account only two options: all or nothing. With this type of approach, nuances disappear and everything is either black or white.

This kind of bias causes you to work to unrealistic standards. It means you’re often unfair, both to yourself and others. For example, when you fail an exam and believe that the grade you obtained reflects your incapability. Or, when your partner makes a moderately serious mistake and you take it as irrefutable evidence that your relationship isn’t working.

2. Overgeneralization

Overgeneralization is another cognitive distortion. It consists of applying something that happens in one event to all situations. In other words, an isolated negative event might occur, but you turn it into a stable pattern, without there being any grounds for seeing it that way.

This has an especially negative effect when you apply it to yourself. Overgeneralizations like ‘always’ or ‘never’ aren’t good additions to your vocabulary, particularly when referring to what you are or what you can do. This is because, as a human being, you’re constantly changing. You’re also inconsistent and contradictory, not straightforward.

Polarization is a common distortion. It makes you see reality in black and white.

3. Personalization

Personalization can act in two ways. The first occurs when you assume that other people’s behaviors are aimed at causing you some discomfort or harm, for the mere fact that they involve you.

For instance, when a store closes just before you walk in and you think it could only happen to you. Or, when you overhear somebody saying something negative and you believe they’re referring to you without there being any basis for thinking so.

The other manifestation of this type of distortion occurs when you assume that you’re responsible for events that are really out of your control. As a rule, it leads you to feel guilty.

For example, your son falls off his bike and you believe that if you’d warned him or were more vigilant it wouldn’t have happened. Or, a gadget that everyone uses at work breaks and you start to think maybe you did something wrong the last time you used it.

4. The cognitive distortion of ‘should’

It’s extremely important to use the word should really carefully. That’s because it’s often little more than an expression of a common cognitive distortion. Indeed, it’s frequently born from an unestablished norm or rule and appears only to generate self-reproach.

It isn’t true that things ‘should’ be just one way with no exceptions. There are certain factors, circumstances, and nuances that allow flexibility. So, instead of saying “I should be more punctual”, it may be more reasonable to ask yourself what’s behind your lateness. Try and understand, don’t judge yourself.

Doubtful young woman on blue background
A cognitive distortion fosters the belief that things only happen to you, even if there are no reasons for you to believe so.

5. The just world fallacy

The just world fallacy is the cognitive bias that noble actions will be rewarded and evil acts will be punished. In effect, it’s the belief that everyone gets what they deserve and actions will always have morally fair circumstances for the actor. However, in reality, it’s often not even clear what’s fair. In fact, you might confuse what’s fair with what’s equitable, even if this isn’t always correct.

If you see yourself as a victim of circumstance, you’ll tend to accumulate a great deal of resentment. And, if you deeply internalize the idea/expectation that the world has to be fair and that everyone gets what they deserve, you’d be mistaken.

Finally, cognitive distortions not only deprive you of a more adapted vision of reality, but they’re also central to your decision-making and the way you look at the past and the future. As a  matter of fact, they form the roots of the cognitive system.

The post Five Cognitive Distortions That Lead to Negative Thoughts appeared first on Exploring your mind.


L’ Info Psy ::: Psychothérapie – Chantal MAILLE ::: 05/10/2023

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