Thinking About Thinking 

Patterns of “Cognitive Distortions”

These are several common cognitive distortions that can contribute to negative emotions. A cognitive distortion is a thought  that is not based on truth or reality.

These thoughts generate emotions, and some of these thinking patterns that are particularly disabling, and have serious consequences for the thinker of these thoughts.

Read through these common cognitive distortions to see if you and see if you can identify ones that are familiar to you.

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation 

falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. Thinking in absolutes such as “always” or “never”.

2. Over generalization: You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as “always” or “never” when you think about it. 


3. Discounting the Positive: Recognizing only the negative aspects of a situation while 

ignoring the positive. One might receive many compliments on an evaluation, but focus 

on the single piece of negative feedback.

4. Jumping to Conclusions: Interpreting things negatively when there are no facts to 

support the conclusion. Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no 


5 Mind Reading: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.

6. Fortune-telling:  The expectation that a situation will turn out badly without 

adequate evidence.

7. Magnification: You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities.

8. Emotional Reasoning: The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really 

are. “I feel like a bad friend, therefore I must be a bad friend.”

9. Should statements: Should Statements: The belief that things should be a certain way. “I should always be friendly. Should statements” that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: 

10. Labeling: Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying “I 

made a mistake,” you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” You might also 

label yourself “a fool” or “a failure” or “a jerk.” Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but “fools,” “losers,” and “jerks” do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem. You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way,  you may tell yourself: “He’s an S.O.B.” Then you feel that the problem is with that person’s “character” or “essence” instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.

11. Personalization and blame: Personalization occurs when you hold yourself 

personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. When a woman 

received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, “This 

shows what a bad mother I am,” instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem 


12. Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of 

events. One might believe their own achievements are unimportant, or that their 

mistakes are excessively important.

13. Catastrophizing: Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation.

14. Overgeneralization: Making broad interpretations from a single or few events. “I felt 

awkward during my job interview. I am always so awkward.”

15. Magical Thinking: The belief that acts will influence unrelated situations. “I am a 

good person—bad things shouldn’t happen to me.”


Lastly, if it occurs to you that someone actually at one point SAID that negative thought to you, go ahead and do a bit of regression, think back,  and find out who said that to you. Are they perfect, check the source. Are they themselves perfect  with everything? Fact check.


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