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Cognitive Distortions: Unhelpful Thinking Habits and How To Change Your Thinking Patterns

    Cognitive Distortions: Unhelpful Thinking Habits and How To Change Your Thinking Patterns

    Catastrophising, emotional reasoning, and personalisation are a few cognitive distortions that may be leading you to negative thinking.

    Cognitive distortions are ways of thinking or believing that are irrational or inflated that distort our perception of reality, usually in a negative way. Many cognitive distortions occur as automatic thoughts and while common can be hard to recognise.

    For those who are looking to improve their mental health by recognising cognitive distortions, we have compiled a list of common distortions that may be influencing your perception of reality.


    Polarised thinking

    Aka black and white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking. This distortion manifests as unwillingness or inability to see shades of grey and habitually thinking in extremes. Things are either fantastic or awful, or you believe you are either perfect or a total failure. This thinking pattern is often associated with Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.


    This occurs when a conclusion is reached about one event or instance, and it is generalised across the board or forms an overall pattern. This distortion often leads to negative thinking about yourself or the world based on one to two experiences. This cognitive distortion is associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    Mental Filter

    This pattern of thinking is the tendency to focus exclusively on negative information or events and ignore the positives.

    Disqualifying the Positive

    Acknowledging the positive experiences or pieces of information, but rejecting them (instead of embracing them) or explaining them away as flukes or incidences of luck. Disqualifying the positive distortion can facilitate negative thinking patterns even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary, and can cultivate learned helplessness.

    Jumping to conclusions

    • Mind Reading manifests as the belief that you know what the other person is thinking.
    • Fortune Telling manifests as the tendency to make predictions or conclusions based on little or no evidence

    Magnification and Minimisation

    Also known as the binocular trick as this distortion skews perspectives by exaggerating the importance, meaning, or likelihood of negative qualities or experiences and minimising the importance, meaning, or likelihood of the positive qualities or experiences.

    Emotional Reasoning

    Referring to the acceptance of one’s emotions as facts or a reliable indicator of reality, described as ‘I feel it, therefore it must be true’.


    As implied, this cognitive distortion involves the tendency of taking everything personally or assigning blame to yourself without logic or reason.

    Should Statements

    When you or others should, must, or ought to do something stems from imposing a set of expectations that are likely not to be met.


    Making a judgement about yourself or others as a person or assigning judgments of value rather than making a judgment based on a single instance or behaviour is referred to as labelling. It occurs as a form of extreme overgeneralisation.


    Dreading the worst or assuming the worst when faced with an unknown is a type of distorted thinking that can lead to everyday ordinary worries escalating.


    The good news is that over time, cognitive distortions can be changed.

    Here are a few ways you can try if you want to change your thinking and combat cognitive distortions.

    • Identify and understand the thought
    • Decatastrophising
    • Consider your inner rules or assumptions for living
    • Checking for facts versus opinions
    • Investigating evidence

    Therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy can help people learn to identify, interrupt, and then change their thinking patterns. If you would like support with identifying and changing cognitive distortions, contact us to book in to see our psychologist.

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