What is Cognitive Distortion?

Cognitive distortion is one of the most important concepts in cognitive behavioral therapy. In this article, I briefly explain what cognitive distortions are and share some of the most common cognitive distortions with you.

What is Cognitive Distortion?

cognitive distortion
Source: @psychologyhuddles

What is a Cognitive Distortion?

A cognitive distortion is a term used to describe errors in thinking that lead to irrational and self-destructive behavior. Cognitive distortions are typically rooted in the individual’s attempt to cope with feelings of helplessness, anxiety, or depression. In order for cognitive distortions to be identified, one must first identify what they are actually doing wrong.

In order to express what cognitive distortion is, I want to draw your attention to the concept of cognition first.

Cognition has a slightly different meaning in the psychology literature than the above meanings. All of the mental processes that one takes to understand the world and the events around him can be defined as cognition.

We constantly receive stimuli from inside and outside: Our heart beats, our stomach rumbles when we are hungry, we sweat when we fear, we crave, we remember, we have sexual desires, we meet someone, one smiles at us, one praises us, one criticizes us, one talks about us, one kisses us, attacks us, and so on. All these stimuli that we receive, in fact, are neutral in nature. We personalize all these stimuli through “consciousness.”

We perceive the stimulus (information) that comes us from inside or outside, develop a thought about it, compare it with previous information, synthesize, produce new information, store that information, remember the same information, and evaluate the information, etc. Together with all these mental actions, we personalize the stimulus in question.

An unconscious person may not be affected by a stimulus in which a conscious person is affected. For example, when you insult a mentally disabled person, they may not understand what you are saying. I mean, he can’t do any cognitive processing about the stimulus you send him.

To Summarize

what is cognitive distortion? 1
course photo: mentalillnessquotesinfo

Let me summarize the above: We receive a continuous stimulus from our “inner world” and “our outer world.” We process these stimuli mentally, make them meaningful to us, and personalize them. Cognition is the name of the mental activities we do to make the stimuli we receive from our inner and outer world meaningful.

We may not always be able to process the information coming from inside and outside healthily, that is, we may not perceive it as it is. We can interpret the natural beating of our heart as a heart attack. But my heart beats fast as I walk fast. Or I call my friend on the mobile phone but they don’t answer the phone. “So he does not want to talk to me.”, I can interpret. But my friend didn’t notice. This is also a kind of cognitive distortion.

What are the Most Common Cognitive Distortions?

Technically, we can talk about too many cognitive distortions. However, cognitive-behavioral therapy theorists have found that we use some types of cognitive distortion very widely. Now let’s consider these common types of cognitive distortions.

what is cognitive distortion? 2
Source: @psychologyhuddles

Dichotomous Thinking

This cognitive distortion is also called “bipolar thinking”

When we think this way, we look at things like “Something must be exactly the way we want it or not at all…” The process, not the result, is always more important to us. If we didn’t get a high score, it wouldn’t mean anything to us.

Some people I encounter in my psychotherapy experience express their situation as follows: For me, the life is black or white. There is no grey. People who think like this can perceive living in gray as a kind of impersonality.

Some examples of thinking

  • If I can’t do the best, I never will.
  • If someone is criticizing me, then he doesn’t like me at all.
  • He/she is unreliable if he/she doesn’t tell me everything.
  • My mother (my father, my husband, my child, etc.) has no negative features.
  • If people don’t always think about me, I’m flawed.
  • Everything I want, it must always be the way I want it.
  • We shouldn’t have a fight with my partner, If we want a happy marriage.
  • If my partner loves me, I should always be on him/her mind.
  • If my partner loves me, he/she must always keep my wishes ahead of everything.

Mind Reading

Mind reading is a cognitive distortion that states that we think we know what is going on in other people’s minds, or that they know what’s going on in our minds.

In bilateral relations, we all make assumptions about the feelings and thoughts of the other person. This is a normal process in terms of relationships. However, if we are using mind-reading distortions, we are confident that we know what the other person is thinking. Even if people tell us otherwise, we have a hard time changing our minds. We do not leave ourselves or anyone else with a margin of error.

For Example

  • No need to ask, I’m sure what you’re thinking.
  • If he loved me, he’d know what I wanted at the time.
  • Needless to say, he must understand it.


Disasters can be thought of as predicting the future negatively without considering the realistic data in question. In disaster, there is an excessive focus on possible future negativity.

People who take into account the more negative aspects of events and possibilities use this distortion extensively. A father whose child takes the exam can focus on the possibility that his child will not pass and may annoy him. When a child goes to the park, a mother may be anxious to focus on the possibility of her child being abducted. A person who focuses on the side effects of the drug he is drinking may panic and get in a hurry. An employee who fails to do a job in time can be worried about the possibility of being fired.

Over Generalization

It may be considered as over-generalization that one reaches a negative (or positive) opinion based on a single (or very little) data. Here is a general rule on a limited number of examples.

In extreme generalization, a piece can be perceived as the whole itself.

Some examples:

  • A woman might say to her husband: “He didn’t remember my birthday. That means that he does not love me.
  • No woman can be trusted.
  • A student who gets a low score may say: “I am completely unsuccessful.”
  • Someone arguing with his friend might say: “I can never look at his face again.”

Last Updated on December 10, 2022 by Lucas Berg


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